Thursday, October 26, 2006

Library move takes big leap

By MATT PHINNEY, or 659-8253
October 25, 2006

The Tom Green County library is one big step closer to the old Hemphill-Wells de-partment store.

County commissioners Tuesday approved a contract with Holzman Moss Architecture and Craig Kinney Architects for the design and construction of the new library. Supporters have raised about $12 million in pledges and donations in the past year for the move.

The total project will cost about $15.9 million, with construction costs of about $12.9 million. The remaining money will be spent on architectural fees, other potential consultant fees and the price of a construction manager, said Larry Justiss, library administrator.

Commissioners also voted to allow the firms to begin schematic design plans for the new library.

The library design committee ''has spent a substantial amount of time with the architectural firms and have done a great job,'' the county's legal counsel, Keith Davis, said before recommending the commissioners approve the contract.

''A lot of thought has gone into this matter.''

The fundraising goal for the entire library project is about $20.9 million, which is higher than the original goal of $16.4 million, for construction and operation of the library. That includes the $3.4 million value of the building and a $1.5 million endowment that will be used to operate the new library.

The city of San Angelo owns the building but has agreed to lease it to the county for $1 a year for 99 years - a $99 tab that Steve and Pollyanna Stephens agreed to pay.

About 1,300 people use the main library daily.

Higher construction costs and greater-than-expected deterioration of the old department store contributed to the increase, Steve Stephens said. Construction is expected to begin in November 2007 and end in spring 2009, according to preliminary plans.

Stephens, who has donated $2 million to the project, said the move is ''officially under way'' with Tuesday's vote.

''It really feels good,'' Stephens said. ''So much has gone into this. Nothing is more important in a community than the educational center. And this is important for the revitalization of downtown. The Hemphill-Wells is a great building that has been an eyesore for decades.''

The library move and renovation will be done in phases beginning with the design, design development and construction. The commissioners' court must review and approve each phase, Davis said.

Justiss said the new library will offer opportunities not existent in the Edd B. Keyes Building. More space will allow the library to host educational programs and use meeting rooms to provide educational forums, he said.

''It will be a huge difference for the user,'' Justiss said. ''The library has cramped space. People usually have no place to sit, they are shoulder to shoulder and the books shelves are 100 percent full. We basically have books in backrooms and on the floor.''