Calloway Library Board Approves Proceeding With New Expansion Plan Despite Public Objection

Aug 14, 2019

The Calloway County Public Library Board is moving forward with a new expansion plan despite objection and disapproval from community members at another tense meeting Tuesday evening. Board members voted three to one to proceed with a plan to build a new children's library next to the current library and to connect the two buildings. 

Kennedy Option #2

The proposal by board member Winfield Rose is to proceed with a modified version of the "5253 Kennedy Option #2" where a new children's library would be built on library-owned land behind the neighboring Higgins House, which would connect to the northwest corner of the current library. The original version of this plan was requested by Mark Kennedy and the architect did not recommend this option. Rose noted that the option has an “essential standard” square-footage deficit of 1,730. He said if that standard is “deemed extremely important” then the new building could be enlarged. 

Photo of handout
Credit Matt Markgraf / WKMS

The board also approved having in the September 10 meeting an attorney advise on proper legal procedures and for an architect to present a preliminary plan. Another aspect involves the board declaring an "intention" to upgrade the existing facility to meet ADA and other standards while keeping it as open and functional as possible. Rose, Kennedy and Joe Walker voted in favor of the plan. Riley Ramsey voted against the plan. Board President Audrey Neal recently resigned from the board and was not at the meeting.

Ramsey said he did not want to vote for a project without first seeing the financial figures involved. “I want to be very cautious about long-term debt,” he said. “And several constituents have asked me to take that into consideration. So I can’t vote for this at this time. Later perhaps.” Kennedy said that the engineer involved in the expansion and renovation effort had estimated the project to cost about $3 million for the children’s library and another $1 million to bring the current building into ADA compliance “and some other cosmetic things.” Kennedy then said “it came to about $5 million.” He said the library currently has about $4 million and will get another million in a “tax bill coming due to us in February.” 

Director Mignon Reed said the “Kennedy Option #2” plan cost $5,334,580. She said the library currently has $3,646,325.66 for the project. Kennedy then suggested taking “$55,000” from one account and putting it into the building fund, “which we’re legally entitled to do - we would have $4 million on hand.” Reed asked what account that would come from and Kennedy said “the money market account.” Reed replied that was the operating budget. Kennedy insisted that the project could be done without borrowing any money. Rose agreed the plan was “financially doable.” 

Public Comment

Several community members expressed that they were disappointed the board is pursuing the plan and did not want the children's library to be a separate building. Some noted that a judge-executive working group recently recommended the board instead renew the plan that had been approved by the previous board that was rescinded last year by Rose, Kennedy and Walker.

Bobby Martin
Credit Matt Markgraf / WKMS

Bobby Martin chaired that working group and said, “it’s difficult for me to put into words how disappointed I am that you chose to go forward with the Kennedy Option #2 as amended for the renovation and expansion.” He said he understood their desire to not spend more than they need to and not wanting to temporarily move the library. He noted several other local road and building projects that required borrowing money because the community deemed the projects important. “Who among us hasn’t borrowed money to buy or build our first home - maybe more than one home - with long term debt? I hope you get my point,” he said. “I strongly urge you to reconsider the decision made with the Kennedy Option #2 plan and go forward with the Essential Plus Plan that was adopted by the library board of trustees 16 months ago.”

Georgena Taylor said the library serves more than children and asked the board to consider including more community rooms, computer labs and reading spaces in the expansion project.

Phyllis Miller questioned where people would park in the Kennedy Option #2 plan. She also said, “The people in this room care about this library. We don’t like to be treated like a bunch of students that are supposed to sit here and keep our mouths shut and not react.” This comment appeared to refer to an earlier exchange between Miller, Rose and Kennedy. The latter two also repeatedly called the room to order and questioned what some individuals, including Miller, found “funny” in the board’s conversation.

Nancy Mieure questioned how many patrons with children or grandchildren that use the library on a regular basis the three board members spoke with regarding the separate children’s library. She also questioned whether the relatively small space occupied by the children’s section in the current library would be enough to give the community what they want in their library. She said she was disappointed the trustees “didn’t even consider” the recommendations put forth by the judge-executive work group. She suggested another town hall could help the board get feedback about what community members want. 

Constance Alexander
Credit Matt Markgraf / WKMS

Constance Alexander said she feels “a huge lack of confidence in this board,” noting that the board had no president and that one of the members could be rotating off soon. Pointing to what she said was a diverse audience, she then referred to the board as “four old men - sorry guys - four retirees are making decisions young people with families, teachers, working people… it’s just hard to have confidence in the decisions that you’re making.” She said the board has “wasted a lot of time” in pursuing the “completely inadequate” former bank building downtown and suggested the board has also wasted money due to the rising costs of construction materials. 

Charlotte Beahan said she opposes “very strongly” the idea of a separate children’s facility, citing the cost of separate staff and security and potentially separating family members. She said a library should encourage curiosity and suggested a separate library could “shut off” kids from exploring a wide range of books. She also questioned how young adults would be incorporated. “No 14 or 15 year old is going to go into the children’s section to look for books,” she said. She called on board members to instead go with the original plan. 

Erin Horton
Credit Matt Markgraf / WKMS

Erin Horton said it’s concerning to have a children’s space in a different building. She said it’s important for her as a teacher and a mother to model choosing books in front of her daughter and for children to see that everyone reads and uses the library. She read a portion of a 2008 essay written by Rose: “We have a society which we enjoy and hopefully treasure but it must be passed on to future generations. If we must choose between our own personal short term benefit and the long term interest of the future, we should choose the future.” She said Roses’ advice should be heeded and the library should be expanded so that community members of all ages can interact with literacy in the same place.

In responding to the public comment, Kennedy said the previous expansion plan has been looked at and suggested the architect put the new plan up for similar consideration. “And to just blanketly condemn what we’ve proposed here without even seeing the particulars and the details and to accuse of us being just ‘four old white men’ - I’m sick and tired of that,” he said. “I’m a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather and I’ve used libraries and taken my kids to the library all my life. We don’t deserve that.”

Mark Kennedy responds to public comments
Credit Matt Markgraf / WKMS

Applications And Other Business

The board is accepting applications for Neal’s position. The application period is open now through August 30. The board is expected to pick two finalists at the September 10 meeting. The Fiscal Court is expected to vote soon on who will fill Walker's expiring seat. Walker is one of the finalists, as is Vonnie Hays Adams. 

In other business, the board approved having an attorney negotiate with the property owner behind the library the sale of a small piece of property that would allow for additional space likely to become a handful of additional parking spaces. 

The board also appointed library employee Sandy Linn to form a committee to develop a plan for a book mobile by February. Linn presented research involving various options. 

The board also approved the same tax rates as the previous year of 5.8 in real property, 6.96 in personal property and 3.00 for motor vehicles that would produce an estimated $1,429,328.

Note: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Nancy Mieure's name.