Can WB Library get Hooverball site?
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · January 18, 2013

Workshop participants on Thursday decided Hoover Assoc. land on West Main Street would provide the best location for a new city library — close to downtown and schools, room for expansion and a central location — provided the non-profit group wants to sell.

More than 20 people, including the library’s board of directors, met for two hours Jan. 10 to prioritize criteria for a new location and evaluate 16 sites up for consideration.

The 16 sites were a dream list of sorts — no one was certain if any of the land owners had any interest in selling. The Hoover Assoc., which scored 75 points in the ranking, currently uses the property for the national Hooverball championships during Hoover’s Hometown Days.

Cary Wiesner, who works for the Hoover National Historic Site, pointed out that the Hoover Assoc. does not have a director right now, so it is possible a new director might convince its Board of Trustees to sell.

Hoover Assoc. President Charlie Becker said he is open to the idea, but notes that he is only one vote on the Board of Trustees.

Becker said he likes to see presidential associations purchase land around the sites they support, to create a “buffer” around the property. The idea is that the Association can control what comes near the Hoover Complex, he said, and a new West Branch library that “looks nice” would be “just fine” to him.

West Branch Public Library Director Nick Shimmin said it could be years until the city can build a new library, so even if a site is unavailable now, it may be for sale later.

The workshop ranked 13 of the 16 sites after pitching three for being too small. The current site is on a half acre, and they want about 1.5 acres or more.

Other top-five sites and their scores:

2. The southeast corner of Oliphant and Orange streets. 65 points.

3. The northeast corner of Main and Second streets, the site of Casey’s General Store, Main Street Sweets and Fiesta Riviera. 63 points.

4. The northwest corner of Main and Second streets, the site of Parkside Repair and the old Midwest Oil Co. 62 points.

5. The south side of Main Street, about halfway between Community State Bank and West Branch High School, just west of National Park Site property. 60 points.

F.E.H. architects Kevvin Eipperlie and Denny Sharp gave each participant four red-dot stickers to place on a poster-sized list of criteria. Participants were allowed to place all four on one item, or spread the dots around. The number of dots gave each criteria a weighted score that factored in the ranking.

A large site with room for expansion was the No. 1 criteria, garnering 22 votes. A central location was second, with 13 votes. Third was proximity to schools, especially Hoover Elementary, with 11 votes. Tying for fourth place: Ease of accessibility, like roads instead of an alley, and sidewalks; and space for outdoor activities.

In the library board’s list of goals for the new building and site, they wanted the library itself to last at least 25 years, and the site to handle growth for 60 years.

Ken Fawcett, a local realtor, farmer and volunteer, suggested keeping the current location and negotiating with the school to take over the entire north side of the block from Oliphant to Orange. He would like to see a library, community center, swimming pool and, say, school administration offices filling a structure that took over everything north of the Little Rose Bowl.

“I think the school board needs to be thinking about this,” he said. “If we’re dreaming about West Branch could be, we need to dream about that.”

School Board President Mike Owen did not dismiss the idea, but said that “whatever is done must fit our plan” for the district, which is developing its own comprehensive plan.

Shimmin said that if the library moves to a new location, the property would revert back to the school district, which owned the land before and made that stipulation in the deal.

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