Guest opinion: An Atherton library worthy of us
Does Atherton need a new library? YES. I refer you to the Library Steering Committee Report ("Report") and my complete letter on the Library Steering Committee's website.
Should the library be located in the park? YES. Two years of intensive study, and attendance at probably well over a hundred meetings, have given me some insight and factual data which I believe it is time to share.
Weddings and corporate events at the park are continuing to cost the town money and prevent appropriate usage of the park. Is that what a community park should be? There are clear indications in the historical records and from the words of at least one of her descendants that this is probably not what Olive Palmer would have wanted when she bequeathed the park to the town, nor, according to the report prepared in 1959, was it what the townspeople wanted at the time they accepted the gift. Moreover, a library in the park could help underwrite park maintenance, have synergy with the playground/sport activities/cultural activities/playschool, and would be within safe walking distance of three of the public schools in town.
What about the issues of parking in the park and the environment? Detailed studies by experts in their respective fields have concluded that there is ample parking for a library in the park even with sports and other typical park activities taking place. As to environmental concerns, a new library could be built to an environmentally sound standard and even have electricity powered by photovoltaic cells. A library in the park would also be quieter, being farther away from the train, and allow for the use of contiguous outdoor space, whereas the existing library site would have little outdoor space and would likely encroach a considerable amount on the beautiful small park adjacent to it.
There are so many misconceptions surrounding the possibility of a library in the park that space does not allow me to deal with all of them here, but I would like to quickly refute several. First, the Report, in coordination with experts in many fields, has concluded that any increased traffic can be mitigated.
Second, the size of the library is anticipated to be in the 9,800- to 13,000-square-foot range on two floors and within the footprint of the existing Main House and hardscape area, thus it will not impact open space. The specific size and configuration of the library will be decided by the community during the next phase of discussion.
Third, the library building will be owned by the town. The library will manage the library, the town will manage the park.
Fourth, the park is a 22-acre piece of property. Sports fields, children's play, walking paths, undeveloped tranquil zones, manicured/wooded areas, open space and a library can co-exist beautifully. The word is "balance."
Finally, throughout this process the members of the Library Steering Committee have been mindful of the importance of the park as a community asset. It is of paramount importance to the committee that a library be respectful and complement the Carriage House and water tower, as well as the pastoral qualities of the park, and that it recognize its place as obligated and responsible to those like the Atherton Dames who have watched over and cared for the park.
Unfortunately, placing our library in the park has become a political and personal "football." Political in the sense that there are those who for years have been trying to divert library funds in order to establish a basis for a fundraising campaign to build a new Town Center. Personal in the sense that there is a core group of vocal people in town who do not want to see change, I believe largely for personal reasons.
What appears to be sorely lacking, at peril of losing what has made this country great, is a consideration of the importance of learning, of reading (in whatever format), of a community without walls, of gifting to a future generation the things our parents gave to us — a sense of pride in who we are and what we might become — not just more stuff.
Kathy McKeithen is an Atherton City Council member.