Amid a war of words with Calloway County judge-executive Larry Elkins over costs and other issues, the county’s public library board met Wednesday afternoon and heard an architect’s presentation for a more affordable option for the library’s planned renovation and expansion.
Elkins has repeatedly criticized the board via mass email for considering a $7.6 million expansion which he calls “ridiculous", but acting board president Ryan Alessi has stated repeatedly that figure was the highest estimate given during an exploratory period.
At Wednesday's meeting, architect Chris Cottongim from Louisville's 5253 Design Group presented a $5.3 million option, which would more than double the library’s square footage, from 12,047 sf to 24,622 sf. The $7.6 million estimate would have nearly tripled space at the library, but Alessi says that option is now off the table. Cottongim cautioned that all these figures amount to "guesstimates".
Alessi said the option presented Wednesday represents the minimum amount of square footage required to meet standards set by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.
“We’d pretty much be shut out of getting a grant if the board doesn’t go forward with at least what the state says is the minimum we should have for a county of Calloway County’s size," Alessi said.
Alessi said state grants would make up only a small portion of the funds needed for the expansion. The library currently has $2.5 million set aside for the project.
Alessi said the board's next step is to figure out if the $5.3 million option is enough to meet the library’s needs.
“We greatly need space for community meetings, for children’s activities and children’s programming, for computer labs, for a teen area," Alessi said. "There are programs and things to provide that this library does not have the space to do.”
The $5.3 million option would increase the square footage in the library's main stacks from 5,966 sf to 8,974 sf. It would also increase the number of parking spaces from 80 to 117. This option allows for $1.5 million in renovation to the existing building, a $2.7 million addition and more than $1 million in "softcost" for furniture, fixtures and fees.
Elkins didn't attend the meeting, but did send out another email blast Wednesday afternoon while it was unfolding. In it, he called for the library board to explain why they would have even entertained the more expensive $7.6 million estimate.
"As we move forward, I respectfully request the decision makers at the library realize we are one community with a multitude of needs," Elkins said in the email. "County government needs additional funds for roads and other infrastructure. A real argument could be made for a renovated and expanded animal shelter. The County Extension Service needs additional space. In the city, the police are operating out of two buildings. Additional space is needed at the courthouse. Calloway County may be the only county in the commonwealth [whose] county attorney's office is not in the county building because of lack of space. The point of this hard luck story is, we can't and shouldn't raise taxes to meet every need and satisfy the wishes of every group."
"To summarize, the magistrates and I, as your county elected officials, have no power to stop or alter the library's plans," Elkins said. "If you are in favor of the project, contact the board members and advise them to march forward. I am a citizen and pay the same taxes as everyone else. I have also been an elected county judge-executive for a long time. I have not only the right, but I consider it a duty to speak up on issues that I believe are unfair and hurtful to our community. That is the approach I have taken in the past and will continue as long as I serve."
The board conducted business Wednesday with only four members. Former board president Teresa Betts' term expired recently and Alessi has submitted his resignation, but Elkins has not yet appointed their successors despite having a pool of four candidates presented to him after the board's May meeting. Elkins has labeled the board's selection process as "incestuous". During a public comment period, one of the more than 40 attendees criticized Elkins for not making the appointments, citing KRS 173.340. Alessi said he will continue to serve on the board until his successor is named. UPDATE: Alessi, who is moving out of Calloway County, opted to not apply for reappointment to the board. He didn't resign.
The board next meets Wednesday, October 12.