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About 50 people showed up at Thursday’s Washington County Library Board meeting, and many of them were there to speak or hear about the future location of a new library.
The problem with that, according to library director Joy Wandrey, is that no discussions had been held about moving the library outside of the city limits, although many of those who spoke out during the meeting addressed keeping it in the city of Springfield.
“Over the last eight or nine years, we’ve discussed locations. It’s been going on that long. Lisa Jones started it, and Edward Ellis before me continued it, and I’ve been keeping my eyes open for the 3-and-a-half years I’ve been here,” Wandrey said. “We’re in no hurry to make a decision. That would be incorrect, and not best for the library and the citizens of the county.”
Wandrey said she did not know why so many people attended the meeting.
“I don’t know what moved them all to show up at once, but I’m glad they did. We love to hear from people,” she said.
Although no direct quotes were available, the minutes of a recent meeting of the board of directors of the Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority might hold the answer to the large turnout for a library board meeting. Those minutes show that Wandrey had been invited to update SWEDA on the library board’s search for land to construct a new building. The minutes of that meeting read, “According to Wandrey, she and the Library Board of Trustees are open for suggestions and eager to identify other possibilities as far as a location, but reiterated that the county library serves the ‘entire’ county.”
While no other comments are available about what exactly was meant by that statement, the minutes go on to show that SWEDA board members Hamilton Simms and chairman Robbie Polin both addressed the need for the library to stay in Springfield.
“Washington County Attorney Hamilton Simms stated that it would be terrible to take the library from downtown, adding that Mercer County has an outstanding library in their downtown as well as Nelson County. Robbie Polin agreed that a library compliments any downtown,” the minutes read, and went on to say, “City Administrator Laurie Smith noted that Springfield Main Street Renaissance and the city of Springfield felt that it was very important to keep the library’s location pedestrian friendly.”
Library board president Debbie Wakefield, who also serves on the Springfield City Council, addressed the meeting via an e-mail interview. When asked if any discussion had been held about taking the library outside the city limits, she responded, “There have been many discussions of library locations at our board meetings. The board is weighing all options to best benefit Washington County.”
SWEDA Executive Director Hal Goode introduced Thomas Calvert with MSE of Kentucky, an engineering and architectural firm from Lexington. Calvert made a presentation of three properties, all within city limits, that could be considered for a new library location. The three included warehouses owned by M&J Construction on West Main Street; the Drury, Goatley property, which is the former site of attorney Greg Goatley’s office and located directly across from the current library; and the Cowden building, which is located on Mackville Hill across the street from the Washington County Board of Education building.
Calvert said he was simply presenting the sites as possibilities, and added that his presentation did not mean that either of the sites would be used for a potential new library. He said his firm could make any site chosen by the library board work as a site for a new library.
Calvert added that the new library would be approximately 10,000 square feet in size. Wakefield said the current library is about 5,000 square feet, and 48 years old. She said maintenance has been done over the years, but no new construction has been done on the library.
Several of the citizens who attended the meeting also spoke, and all who did so addressed the importance of people being able to walk to the public library. Among them was Springfield Mayor Dr. John W. Cecconi. He said many of Washington County’s low and medium income citizens live in the city of Springfield, and they rely on the library, which is in walking distance of many of their homes.
“A lot of people walk and are transported to this place to use it, and I do, with the consideration of the board, hope you would keep this library in the city limits. Are you with me?,” Cecconi said.
The statement drew applause, and Wakefield told the mayor that a community’s public library is typically in the county seat.
Susan Spalding, spoke briefly, asking the crowd if there was anyone present who wanted the library to be located in the county, and she asked that they say yes or raise hands. None were raised and no one spoke.
“I think from the presence of the people here, we are all in favor of keeping it in town, is that right?,” Spalding said, drawing more applause.
Others also spoke, including Anne Nicole Flinn, who said she and her husband have seen the benefits of the library as their young son has attended story hour at the library. Flinn went on to say she and her husband moved back to Springfield from Nashville so their son would be able to enjoy walking to locations in a small town, including the public library.
“I’m in support of keeping the local library pedestrian friendly,” Flinn said.
She also told the board that on the day prior to the meeting, she sat outside the library and watched the front door for 25 minutes. During that time, she said she saw seven children enter the library, including five who walked to the library, and two others who arrived riding together on one bicycle.
Lou Ann George, a local educator, also spoke in favor of keeping the library in Springfield. She talked about being in the library and seeing who were once her students waiting to use the computers, and she said she is pleased to have to step over the bicycles of children when she goes to the library.
“We live in a community where many parents cannot buy books for their children, or have Internet service for their homes. Many of these students currently live within walking distance of this centrally located library,” she said. “I spoke with Mr. (Paul) Terrell, our high school principal, and he said many of his students live within the city limits, and the public library is the only exposure to the Internet, not counting the availability of books and magazines, that they receive outside of school. These are the kids walking to the library.”
George added that local middle school teachers place textbooks in the library so that students who may forget their books at school for homework can walk to the library and access them there.
Wakefield added that she was not surprised at the number of people at Thursday’s meeting.
“No, I was not surprised at the number in attendance at the meeting last Thursday night. All meetings are open to the public, and we welcome any and all who would like to participate in our meetings,” she wrote. “Building a new library brings us challenges, and we welcome those supporters; however, we hope those supporters will also come and assist us in tackling other program issues other than brick and mortar.”
Wakefield said there is no timetable set for constructing a new library.