New library site recommended

If there’s going to be a new library, it should be built at the site it currently occupies.

HBM Architects made that recommendation to the Newton City Commission at a work session Monday night, following the completion of the library site selection process.
Military Park met 12 out of 13 criteria the HBM Architects used to evaluate possible library sites, leading to the recommendation. It also was the top recommended site during the public survey meetings.

“The three top criteria that everybody commented to them was convenience and ease of access, adequate parking and close to the downtown area,” Peter Bolek, director of design for HBM Architects said. “Equally, kind of a tie, site acquisition costs were also important.”

Military Park was the only site that met all such criteria.

The library board also recommended the site.

Commissioner Barth Hague asked if Military Park would allow for a remodel, saying he didn’t necessarily agree with the idea but wanted to know if the park would be an option.

Bolek told him remodel costs would be fairly expensive.

“Remodeling costs can be at or even exceeding building costs,” he said, adding that there were significant issues with the building. He said that it would be difficult to upgrade the meeting rooms and electric infrastructure to meet needs and expectations of a modern library.

“I don’t disagree with that assessment,” Hague said. “Is it fair to say as you all work at this process, you are sort of working at a vantage point that we accept the results of a feasibility study and we’re looking at a new building?”
Bolek said the group would look at the remodel option again but didn’t believe the situation had changed since his company last looked at the option 10 years ago and recommended a new building.

“I’m anticipating various levels of push back, and that’s why I’m raising that question,” Hague said.

“I’ve already had half a dozen people raise that question,” Commissioner Leroy Koehn added.
“We’re going to have to have a very solid explanation for our citizens,” Koehn said, noting that he agreed with the assessment others have said that they believe the existing building was a solid structure.

“The defense and explanation needs to be succinct and to the point so people can understand,” he said.
Bolek said as they go through the process there would likely be costs that could be shown to illustrate why a new building would be a better option.

Future commissioners Richard Stinnett and Clint McBroom were asked if they had any opinion or questions about the sites.

Stinnett noted that he appreciated the curtailing of previous planned library parking at Military Park. While plans have room for an option of up to 92 parking spots, and the past library design included 70, drawings showed spots cut down to the minimum code-required 50.

Stinnett said many in the community noted concerns of losing green space and paving over the park for more parking.
“I think the change will help communicate for the public that there’s a solid commitment,” he said.

Now the commission will look at the site proposals and try to make a decision on site selection at its Dec. 10 meeting.