Southside library efforts moving ahead

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library officials must clear one more regulatory hurdle before a new chapter can begin for the south Parkersburg branch.

After Parkersburg City Council’s Finance Committee sent a lease agreement to the full council Tuesday and the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a three-and-a-half-foot front yard variance Wednesday, all that’s left is for council to give its blessing to a lease for a 5,000-square-foot building to be located in Blizzard Park.

The lease would be for $1 a year for 50 years, and would require two readings, set for May 6 and 20.

The new location is on the opposite side of fire station 5 from where the current branch, built in the 1970s, sits at 1713 Blizzard Drive.

“South of the Little Kanawha (River), you have about 24,000 people that would be served by that one branch that’s less than 1,200 square feet and only eight parking spaces,” said Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library.

Raitz envisions the new space, designed by Parkersburg-based Pickering Associates, as a welcoming environment where people will spend time like they do at the main branch on Emerson Avenue.

Currently, the only reason patrons come to the south branch is to drop off and pick up books or use one of three Internet stations, he said.

“You do not have people that come in there to relax, read the paper … use this for other purposes or just to research,” Raitz said.

The new branch will have meeting rooms as well as space for an expanded collection. Raitz said he expects to hire at least one more full-time employee and some part-timers to keep the branch open six days a week.

Construction is expected to start in July or August, with the new building to open by the summer of 2015. The project, including furnishings, is expected to cost about $2.1 million.

“This is expensive, but the excess levy that passed … is going to help,” Raitz said.

The $2.27 million levy passed in 2012 will also help cover the increased costs of running and maintaining the larger facility, he said.

The lease with the city was sent to the full council Tuesday by a 5-0 vote of the Finance Committee.

City development director Rickie Yeager told committee members some adjustments may have to be made since the new building would be constructed on dedicated recreation space.

As a condition of receiving federal Land and Water Conservation funds, the city must receive approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior for the new project or dedicate an equal amount of land to recreation.

Yeager said he will argue placing the library in the park will actually increase its use as a recreational site, since not many people take advantage of it now.

“You definitely open it up to other people just by more people being there,” Council President John Rockhold said Tuesday.

If that is not accepted, the city has other land it could substitute, including property near the Fifth Street Bridge, space by the recycling center, the arboretum at the Emerson library branch and perhaps even the site of the current south branch, which the library may give to the city, along with the octagonal branch building itself.

Raitz said the library might put in playground equipment near the new branch.

Councilwoman Sharon Lynch expressed concern that although the branch would have room for more patrons and vehicles, it would still be difficult to enter and exit when traffic backs up along Blizzard.

Raitz said a city right of way behind the property was considered as an alternative means of ingress and egress, but that was thought to be too disruptive to nearby residents.

“We’ve settled on this (plan) because it’s reducing conflicts with the neighbors,” he said.