Sparks fly over library plans
By LPR Staff
Children have their place – as does history. Do the two belong in the same building?
This question caused passions to run high, tempers to flare and blood pressures to skyrocket as the Lockhart City Council discussed plans for the upcoming construction and renovation project at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and the Mason
ic Library Annex on Tuesday evening, after the council heard a preliminary plan to move the children”s area of the library into the main building of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library complex (“the Clark building”).
The conversation started before the meeting, as members of the community and the Friends of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library (“Friends”) learned that preliminary plans include moving the children”s reading area and juvenile fiction section away from their current location at the front of the Masonic Annex, and into the Clark Building. The plan, which came at the suggestion of a joint discussion between Library staff, the council-appointed Library Advisory Board and architect Norm Alston, was met with resistance by Friends members and, primarily, District Four Councilmember Richard Banks. Chief in the list of concerns was the idea that moving the children”s section to the Clark building would preclude use of the building by the community at large, and make adults feel uncomfortable using the building as a reading area.
Concerns were also expressed about the behavior and supervision of the children, and the possibility that housing the children”s section in the Clark building would open the building to unexpected and unwelcome wear and tear.
Lockhart Historical Preservation Commission President Kathy McCormick, who in the past has been actively involved with Friends, was among the first to express concerns about the use of the Clark building.
“It”s not that I don”t want the children in the Clark building – I think it”s wonderful for them to experience it,” she said. “But it scares me to death to think of a child scampering away from parents or staff and headed up to the Irving Room.”
Instead, she suggested, the building should house local history and genealogy materials, and the children”s material be left on the first floor of the Masonic building, with the useable area expanded.
Clare Brice and Mary Vance, also members of the Historical Preservation Commission, echoed McCormick”s sentiments, and also expressed distaste at the idea of the Clark building becoming “cluttered with children”s items.”
According to Librarian Bertha Martinez, moving the children”s section into the Clark building will allow for the removal of much of the current, heavy furniture, and most of the stacks. She said the children”s and youth books could all be stored in the existing shelving space lining the walls of the Clark building, opening up the floor space and allowing more floor space not only for children”s programming, but also for special events such as readings, concerts and luncheons which are currently held in the Clark building.
With the present setup of the building, the staff has to rearrange furniture, moving heavy chairs and reading tables to open up space for gatherings.
Library Advisory Board president Stephanie Riggin spoke to the council to express the Board”s support of the proposal and agreement with Martinez”s assessment. She said the Board had been reviewing the suggestions and plans, but was attempting to make the most of the available space.
“We aren”t in the position where we are able to build a building from the ground up,” Riggin said. “We have “x” amount of space – and we have to use that square footage to our best advantage. In that, the Board has tried to take the lead of the staff… they are the ones dealing with the patrons: children, teens and adults.”
Riggin reiterated the plan did not include closing the Clark building off from the general public, rather attempting to open the space up for use as a lyceum, which was – as Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram pointed out – Dr. Eugene Clark”s intention when made the gift to the city in his will.
As council discussion opened on the topic, Bertram said he was concerned that, in becoming involved with the placement of equipment, furnishings and books when no changes to the structure were intended, the council might be interfering with the day-to-day operation of a city department, something he said he was hesitant to do. Still, he said, he heard and understood the concerns of those who might be worried about the integrity and the history of the Clark building.
Banks led the charge in heated opposition, at times conversational and at others, appearing furious about the direction the conversation had taken, and the apparent lack of consultation with the Historical Preservation Commission with regard to the plans.
“This is an adult place, and not a children”s place,” Banks said. He went on to state he would not support any motion that included moving the children”s section to the Clark building. Instead, he said he preferred the idea of moving historical and genealogical material to the Clark building.
“This is not going to be a specialty library,” District Three Councilmember Lew White said. “[The citizens] don”t want it to be a specialty library – they want it to be a workable library… this is a continuation of a project that”s gone dormant for 20 years, and we need to move forward with it.”
Although White said he, too, had concerns about relegating the children to the Clark building, he also said he wasn”t overly concerned about wear and tear, misbehaving children and the building being damaged by youthful patrons.
“I don”t know that we”ve seen a significant amount of deterioration in the Masonic building from the children”s section,” he said. “I haven”t seen a problem with kids in there running wild. It”s a library, and there is a certain behavior that”s expected, and if you don”t behave, you”ll be asked to leave.”
Banks also expressed vehement concern about children”s safety in the Clark building, going so far as to say that the city would have to hire a full-time police officer to monitor the building and protect children from what he called “perverts.”
In an attempt to address those concerns, Alston and Martinez said not only would there be at least one staff member in the Clark building at all times, but that it would be covered with video surveillance and exit-only doors that will sound an alarm if opened from inside.
This, Alston said, is considerably safer for the children than the current setup, which has the children”s area situated in front of large, street-level windows, near two unlocked doors and in plain view from passersby. The Clark building location would offer more security for the children, he suggested, in that they can”t be seen or watched from the street.
After nearly two hours of heated discussion, the council offered tacit agreement that any plans for the use of the Clark building should include lyceum usage, and limit the presence of stacks. Banks and At Large Councilmember Richard Weiland voted against that measure – Banks, because it does not ensure the children”s area will not be located in the Clark building, and Wieland because he said he preferred to have more input from the Historical Preservation Commission on the usage.
White and the rest of the council, however, said they did not feel it was necessary to clear the plans through not only the Library Advisory Board, but the Historical Preservation Commission as well. They did, however, invite the Commission to offer their input to Board members during or prior to the next public meeting of the Library Advisory Board. White requested the Board work with Alston and City Manager Vance Rodgers to prepare alternative plans for usage of the Clark building.
District One Councilmember Kenny Roland, quiet for most of the conversation, said he supported the recommendations of the Library staff and the Advisory Board, and saw no need to continue the discussion.
The issue will be brought back before council for further discussion on May 4.
Other, far less controversial plans for the library expansion project include an isolated “teen section,” offering youth a study room closed off from other library patrons, but surrounded in glass so library staff can supervise activities within the room; placement of the Technology Center on the second floor of the Masonic building, where all public computers will be located; arrangement of council chambers and an expansive meeting space on the third floor of the Masonic building, and expansion of the “connector” which currently runs between the two buildings, allowing for enough space for the library”s only entrance and main circulation desk.
In brief news:
The council heard an update from Animal Services Director Melanie Tucker about the progress of the design for the new animal shelter, which is expected to begin construction in the near future. Although Tucker said the committee was not prepared to present a plan for a blueprint at this time, significant progress has been made toward the design.
Bertram read proclamations recognizing Fair Housing Month and Census 2010 Awareness Week.
The council considered the terms of the agreement with the law firm of Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta for services in connection with redistricting that may be brought out after the completion of the 2010 Census.
They approved a contract with Austin Wood Recycling for tub grinding services to dispose of nearly 10,000 cubic feet of brush, stumps and large limbs hauled away from curbsides by the City over the last several years. The cost of the project is expected to be around $10,000.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. Prior to the meetings, the council engages in work-sessions beginning at 6:30 p.m. The meetings are open to the public, and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.