Almanac

News - July 14, 2010

Atherton Library's future may be in the park

by Renee Batti

The quaint little building at 2 Dinkelspiel Station Lane has done the town of Atherton yeoman service since its construction in 1929. Early on, it was the residence of longtime police chief LeRoy Hubbard, and when he retired in 1968, it was renovated and taken over by the town's library.

But all things run their course, and a needs-assessment task force has determined that the former residence-turned-library is much too cramped and noisy a place to house Atherton's public space for books, communal computers, and children's events.

The solution? Use the nearly $5 million available in the town's Library Donor Revenue fund to build a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, the task force says.

Building a library in the park would not only lead to a more spacious and custom-designed facility for book and materials collections, reading and study space, children's activities, and computer stations, but it could allow the community to create a cultural gathering spot that would include activities of the Arts Committee and the Heritage Association, supporters say.

The task force recommendations were discussed at the June 16 City Council meeting, and the council approved a resolution that allows the planning process to go forward.

Although all council members appeared to support moving the library to the park, they were split on whether to officially endorse that recommendation before community meetings are held allowing residents to address the question. Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilman Jim Dobbie wanted to include endorsement of a move to the park in the resolution, but the council majority removed that specific item before the resolution was approved.

The town is now seeking applications from residents who want to sit on a newly formed Library Building Steering Committee, which will hold monthly meetings and help oversee the planning and design process for the new library. The list of applicants is expected to be considered by the council at its July 21 meeting, and if the council makes the appointments then, the first meeting of the committee would take place in August, according to library manager Carine Risley.

Residents interested in applying for committee membership are asked to contact Ms. Risley at risley@smcl.org or at the library at 2 Dinkelspiel Station Lane.

Why a new library?

The task force that studied the library's current and future needs also considered the option of renovating the existing library, but that option was deemed to be far less attractive. For one thing, even if adding more space to the existing building is possible, the library would still be right next to the train tracks — a problem for patrons trying to concentrate, talk to a librarian, or attend special programs.

The needs-assessment analysis of current and future library use led to the recommendation to increase the size of the facility from 4,790 square feet to about 11,000 square feet. That would allow the library to meet other recommendations based on the needs-assessment report, including: increasing the adult collections by about 12,500 items; the teens' collections by about 300 items; and the children's collections by about 6,000 items.

The report listed pros and cons of moving the library to the park, with the pros greatly outnumbering the negative impacts. At least one item under the "cons" column might be a point of contention for some residents: It notes that the move would require tearing down the existing Main House.

Joan Sanders, longtime president of the Friends of the Library and a member of the needs-assessment task force, said a library in the park "would be a natural fit," creating a cultural hub for the community and possibly allowing special events, such as the well-attended children's programs, to take place in the park's Pavilion.

"It's a very exciting plan ... and will create a whole new set of park supporters," she said.

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