No. 1 pick: Keep library, expand
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · May 03, 2013

A series of four meetings last week helped select the three most-wanted sites for a new or expanded West Branch Public Library, with expanding the current site making the top of the list.

The No. 1 pick, after a series of four public-input meetings, expands the library to the north in roughly a triangle-shaped addition.

The addition dodges the West Branch Community School’s bus barn and gravel turning area, but would take some of the school’s property which now is mostly covered in grass.

The No. 2 pick is more involved, filling the southeast corner of Oliphant and Orange streets, just north of the Oliphant Street football field. Two school maintenance sheds and three homes along Orange Street now occupy that space.

The No. 3 site is also already occupied: Paint ‘n’ Place Horses on Main Street, across from Thomas Drive and east of West Branch Ford.

Library Director Nick Shimmin stresses that this is a list of sites which will be considered first.

“Any drawings done on any location are not official plans for expansion or construction, but instead the concept that ‘This is how a building might sit at this particular site — is this a good possibility for the community/library going forward or is another idea in another spot better?’” he wrote in an e-mail to the Times. “This was really just to answer the question ‘What options in the community are there?’ as opposed to ‘Where exactly is the library going to be in the future?’”

Top three sites

FEH architect Kevin Eipperle said at the noon charrette meeting on April 24 that expanding the current site would give the library the necessary interior space, but only 20 parking spaces; they expect the library to need 45 spaces to account for growth.

The current library space would be turned into meeting rooms, storage and staff areas. The new area would create a new entrance, teen area, adult collection, new books and media section and more restrooms.

“We would design it for the next 50 years,” Eipperle said. “If the bus barn leaves, we would like to take that space, too.”

Doing so would get those extra parking spaces, noted City Administrator Matt Muckler.

The No. 2 site would give the library all the space they need inside and out, plus a little bit more, FEH architect John Karrmann said, including a drive-up book drop and 49 parking spaces.

The question is whether the library can get the land. Neither Shimmin nor Assistant Library Director Becky Knoche are interested in the city leveraging eminent domain laws to try to get it, the school district is not ready to donate the land and at least one homeowner who talked to the Times is not interested in selling.

Lois Semotan lives at 134 West Orange, which is in the middle of the three homes the library would need to acquire for site No. 2. She said her late husband, Roger, bought the property in 1946 — 67 years ago — and they planned to keep the house in the family by passing it on to one of their four children.

Semotan said she does not use the library much and does not think the city needs to build new.

“They can extend it out,” she said. “I think they have the property to do that.”

She also said there appears to be “several places in town” that could be appropriate for a new library.

School officials have not said “no” to donating space, but Superintendent Kevin Hatfield noted that the district is working on its own comprehensive plan that encompasses buildings and education for the next 15 years.

“This is strategic planning for our facilities,” he said. “We need to focus on what’s best for the kids and look at plans.”

Hatfield said the school and city need to work together.

“We have our architects looking at (the property),” the superintendent said. “But we would never say ‘no.’”

Hatfield said concerns about young children crossing busy streets to potential library sites could be alleviated by the city building controlled cross walks.

“There are always advantages to having the library close to the school,” he said.

The No. 3 site also provides “all the room you need,” FEH intern architect Cory Sharp said.

He notes that it is close to Hoover Association land, giving it a “great view.”

“It’s a pretty flexible site,” he said.

Other concerns

FEH President Denny Sharp noted that the city needs to consider whether it wants to move the library temporarily for construction of an addition, or keep the library open while building on another site.

“If you build new, you don’t have to live through construction,” he said.

George Lawson is a library building consultant hired by WBPL to work with FEH. He noted that while the current library site seems to be working, a good location is important because “a public library is the closest thing the city comes to retail.”

That is why, he said, that the Paint ‘N’ Place land is so appealing.

“However, West Branch is not a big metro city,” he added. “It does not go head-to-head with a big box store and everybody knows where it is.”

Lawson said remodeling is “marginally cheaper to building new.”

Shimmin said he will be contacting the school administration to see if the library’s future can become part of the discussion of the school district’s future. He also planned to contact the property owners “so they are not caught off-guard.”

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