Expansion planned for Sebastian County library

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 94 views 

The main branch of the Sebastian County Library on North Adair Street in Greenwood could soon expand in size.

This is according to County Judge David Hudson, who said Library Consultant David Price of Averus Corporation has conducted a needs assessment study for the Sebastian County Library Board.

"He's been doing an analysis of Sebastian County and the main library in Greenwood and branches in Lavaca, Mansfield and Hartford. And also evaluating the financial operating requirements to make enhancements to the system and what the options are."

Regional Library Director Judy Clevenger, who is based at the Greenwood branch, said a presentation from Price on Tuesday (Oct. 15) highlighted what she, her staff and the public have known for quite some time.

"The main thing the consultant was dealing with in this part of his report was the needs that we had, that we're sorely low on space," she said. "We just don't have the space to provide the basics. We need more programming space, shelving space."

The main branch in Greenwood has about 5,400 square feet of space, Hudson said. In order to alleviate the crowding issues Clevenger highlighted, Hudson said about 5,000 additional square feet of space would be needed. But any expansion would require money.

As it stands now, the county's library system is supported by a one half millage tax, with Clevenger said brings in about $180,000. Couple that with turn back funds provided by the state, and she said the annual budget for the system, which includes branches in Lavaca, Harford and Mansfield, is about $235,000 annually.

In order to pay for an expansion, the library is likely to use funds already earmarked from the county. Hudson said $600,000 is already set aside for the library system. But those funds are not guaranteed to provide capital improvements.

"The Quorum Court will determine how the $600,000 is expended," he said. "The library board will only have authority over the funds that they control and that basically is no capital money unless private money materializes to support the library system. (But the $600,000) is just earmarked to support the library, but it would be subject to a definition of a clear plan that could be implemented and whether we would have interlocal agreements or what plan to take will be defined, as well."

The interlocal agreements Hudson referred to could possibly come about as a way to either expand square footage at local library branches, add staff or possibly both using agreements with either local cities or school districts.

Clevenger said the Lavaca Branch is only open on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. while the Hartford Branch is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mansfield's branch library is open on Monday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"The second part of (Price's) report was that our branches are not open enough hours. That was the number one comment (the public) made is more hours and more space."

But with more hours comes the need for more staff and the county's library system only employs five full-time staffers at the Greenwood branch and one part-time staff member at each branch library.

In an ideal world, Clevenger said she would like to see expanded hours and an expanded Greenwood branch. But in order to accomplish both tasks, which she said would allow the library system to better serve its 75,000 visitors last year who checked out about 224,000 volumes, it would require county voters, with the exception of Fort Smith residents, choosing to increase the millage that they currently pay to support library functions.

"If we are just talking (about what we need to enhance services using) existing buildings, increasing 1 mil would net $350,000," she said. "(With that, we could) increase hours and offer a few additional services."

Any decisions on bringing a millage rate increase before voters or allocating the county's $600,000 will not happen until the beginning of next year at the earliest, Hudson said, adding that for the library to accomplish the consultant's final recommendations, "it will take a collaborative approach from the library board, Quorum Court and other bodies."

Hudson said he expects Price's report within the next 90 days, a report Clevenger said she is awaiting with anticipation.

"I'm not sure what the consultant's priorities are going to be. I think he's trying to do something that will make the most difference the fastest, the quickest way to get there and prioritize need. I think he's leaning toward space. But I can't say for sure until I get his final report. And the (library) board will study it, prioritize recommendations and take it to the Quorum Court."