By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Lee County Library should stay downtown, although not necessarily in its current location, said a majority of participants in a public meeting Wednesday on the facility’s future.
Some 45 people attended the nearly two-hour session in the library’s Helen Foster Auditorium, where they were invited to help develop plans for an expansion.
Another meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. today, also at the library.
“The purpose is to validate the public’s desire for a new library,” said architect Richard McCarty, whose firm was hired to design the improved facility.
Part of that task involves determining whether to expand the existing site, located at the intersection of Madison and West Jefferson streets, or build a new facility elsewhere. The current library has 38,000 square feet and sits on a two-acre site with limited parking and few options for growth.
If the library relocates, a consultant has recommended a 91,000-square-foot building on a six-acre site. Among the potential locations are Fairpark, the former Church Street Elementary School, the former Mega Sports building near the BancorpSouth Arena and the Link Centre.
“It needs to be near Highway 45 and Highway 78,” said resident Michael Gratz, explaining that it would offer easier access for county residents.
But Downtown Tupelo Main Street Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg said the building needs to accommodate pedestrian and cyclists in addition to just motorists. She recommended a site closer to existing businesses that could benefit the library.
It’s unclear who would fund the project, but some suggested allocations from the city and county, which already provide annual funding to the library. And the idea of a special tax assessment also was floated.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said funding won’t happen unless the project receives strong community support.
“When times are bad, it’s hard to imagine spending money on a new building,” said nationally known library architect Jeff Scherer of MS&R, “but if it’s there when it needs to be there it serves a great social and cultural need.”
Scherer said library patronage typically increases during economic downturns but that for every $1 spent on a new facility, an additional $6 is generated for the community over a 20-year span.
Whatever the location, the new library will meet the needs of the next generation and focus more on technology than hardcover books. Scherer provided statistics showing a spike in library computer usage and a drop in the number of volumes.
“If we don’t keep up with the times,” he said, “circulation and visitors will decline. We’ve seen it happen before.”
THE LEE COUNTY LIBRARY invites the public to a meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at the library, where participants will hear about future plans for growth and offer input.