Board rejects downtown Stanford library site

October 13, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Stanford will not have a new library downtown.

Harvey Helm Memorial Library board rejected a downtown location Tuesday night despite public outcry at a packed board meeting.

The land, located on Depot and Church streets, was to be given to the board for free to house a new, larger library.

The board had discussed four possible properties for months as the public spoke in strong support of a downtown location, the last piece of land the board had yet to dismiss.

The decision against the free Depot Street location brought loud and angry words from several audience members and civic leaders. Some questioned the legality of the vote.


A motion had been made to accept the downtown land by board member Gladys Burnside and then seconded by vice president Zora Cornett. But when the roll-call vote was taken, Cornett shocked many by voting against the motion. The motion failed by a 2-3 vote, with president Betty Simpson being the only other member in favor. Simpson had preceded the vote with an executive session to discuss the matter, and afterward, said only one member had dissented at that time.

Board member Annabel Kellam and her husband, Keith Schillo, both spoke out strongly against the free land, saying it would be too small for the library's growing needs despite a feasibility study that said otherwise.

Kellam said she didn't hear the audiences' shouted curses after the vote, she was too busy taking down the minutes. "I had to vote my conscience, and that's what I've done," she said.

The library board voted against the wishes of community leaders and citizens at the meeting as well as the recommendation of engineering firm Brandstetter Carroll Inc. of Lexington.

The $1,500 study of the Depot Street land concluded that the area would be suitable for the library's needs and parking.

"Yes, it will work for a library, and if you choose it, there is room for growth," said Monica Sumner, an architect with Brandstetter Carroll. "My only concern is I don't know what's beneath the ground," such as old foundations or utility lines, but that's common with any project.

Bordered by Lancaster, Church and Depot streets, the land was offered to the library for free this spring by local businessmen. In addition, more than $60,000 in donations have been pledged by a local physician and community members, trying to entice the library to stay downtown.

Schillo called the land offer tantamount to bullying and coercion and said it did not reflect well on the community to do business in this way and with "so-called" civic leaders. Schillo said, among audience ridicule, that he wasn't convinced the property is suitable. He also questioned other reasons supporters said the library should stay downtown, including civic pride and ease to genealogists using both the library and courthouse.

"What makes you so special?" Schillo asked.

Historian Irene Jaggers said genealogists have brought untold commerce to the community and are indeed special.

"The two most popular hobbies in America are fishing and genealogy," with people across the country coming to Stanford for their courthouse and library records, she said. Jaggers sat down to a round of applause.

The fact still remained, Schillo insisted several times, that "having one property left does not necessarily make it suitable for what we want to do."

The engineering firm studied five elements of the site to determine its usefulness, including location compatibility to the population, expansion potential and convenience and ease of use by patrons. It concluded that, with a visible entrance facing Church Street, and 40-plus parking spots, the site was suitable for a new, 12,000 square-foot library.

With a Stanford population of about 3,500, that building would work, said Mayor Eddie Carter. Even with expected population growth, the building would work, could be expanded, or could branch out into additional, satellite locations, the feasibility study showed.

Library board members, some not looking at the audience, listened to Carter's fervent speech in favor of the location. "This library needs to stay downtown, people. There's not a perfect place for it, and we can't beat this deal. Make a decision. Go on," Carter said. The new building "will be icing on the cake to many, many people who have worked on our downtown."

Schillo responded, saying the land was not such a sweet deal. Despite the offer of $60,000-plus and the free land, there are serious questions about how to expand a new building if needed and the cost of tearing down an existing building on the site.

Only the five executive members of the library board were allowed to vote, according to state law, said Simpson.

After the vote, those who voted no left the hall quickly. Land supporters Simpson and Burnside shared their dismay with community members.

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