By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Plans unveiled Thursday for a new Lee County Library envision a nearly $26.7 million, three-story structure located in downtown’s Fairpark District, but funding the project remains uncertain.
Library Director Jeff Tomlinson asked the Lee County Board of Supervisors for “guidance and assistance in developing a financial plan” at the board’s regular meeting Thursday morning. He’s expected to appear before the City Council at its annual budget hearing next month.
The project calls for a 75,000-square-foot building to house the library’s growing collection of materials and technology, including a computer lab that draws some 8,000 patrons on average each month. The library’s current facility is less than half that size and more than four decades old. It also lacks sufficient parking.
“Times have changed, technology has changed, and Tupelo and Lee County also have changed,” said library board member Julie Battaile, who also attended the meeting.
Library officials under former Director Jan Willis began exploring expansion or relocation two years ago and have worked toward developing a plan since then. The one unveiled this week is the most comprehensive yet, with a definitive location, floor plan, square-footage and price.
It also includes a conceptual rendering of the building at the chosen spot, on Commerce Street just west of City Hall.
But the modern-looking structure depicted in the rendering isn’t the final design; it’s just an example.
Whatever the design, it first must pass the muster of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which oversees Fairpark. And the library still needs to purchase the site, which will cost an estimated $600,000, Tomlinson said.
That brings the total projected price tag to nearly $27.3 million.
Renovating the current structure would cost almost the same amount – $26.1 million, according to the library’s report to the Board of Supervisors.
“It makes a lot more sense to put money into building something that will last us another 40 years than putting a huge amount of money into where we are,” said library board member Dan Brasfield, calling that strategy a “temporary solution.”