A committee is being put together to figure out “what works and what is affordable” for the new Searcy Public Library that will be housed in the former Searcy Athletic Club building, according to White County Regional Library System Director Darla Ino.
The committee will consist of Searcy Public Library board members, Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne, “the friends foundation will have a couple of people, someone from our White County Regional Library board and also our [county] judge, Michael Lincoln, has asked to be on it,” Ino said. “We will be trying to meet weekly and get going on this project.”
The Searcy City Council held a special meeting to approve a contract with Dr. David Staggs for the purchase of the the athletic club building, at the intersection of Skyline Drive and West Beebe-Capps Expressway. The library system and the city of Searcy each agreed to pay $850,000 for the purchase of the building, which closed Sept. 30. Staggs agreed to pay half of the estimated $175,000 it will take to waterproof the building as a flooding precaution.
Osborne said earlier this week that he had a meeting with Ino to discuss the next steps for getting the building ready. He said an auction of items inside the building will be finished Thursday.
“Once that is finished. they will tell them [the architects] what all they want to do to it [the building] as far as the remodel, and we will start getting prices on that,” Osborne said. “Basically, we will be getting estimates on a remodel.”
The waterproofing will probably start just as soon as the auction is over, he noted; “as soon as we can get somebody out there to look at it and get prices.” He said at this time, he could not say how long the waterproofing will take.
Osborne said Ino wants to meet with the engineers to discuss things like the walls inside the building. “It’s moving right along,” he said.
Osborne said he did not want to speculate on the cost of the remodel because he does not yet know exactly what the library system wants to do inside the building.
Ino said the city will “actually be the one getting the architect” and once one is in place, “we want to try and start and do as much as we can.”
The White County Quorum Court agreed to kick in $250,000 this year and $250,000 next year to help with renovations of the building, so Ino said that money is there to work with on the remodel.
“We do know that there will be certain things that have to be done,” she said. “We know we will need an elevator and we know we will be making a children’s area. Some things we don’t know. We are just starting to look at the building and figuring out what works and what is affordable.”
Concerning leaving the Pleasure Avenue location, where the Searcy library has been since 1966, Ino said “this is a building that I know so well. I know the personality of all the fixtures. We had an old furnace but luckily that has been replaced. I know all of things and how this works.”
Ino has been with the White County Regional Library System since August 1998 and library director since 2010.
“It’s a little bit daunting to start all that over again,” she said, but added, “It is just so exciting.”
“I was telling the mayor. ‘We really didn’t get the spot that we wanted three years ago but in hindsight looking back this is probably really much better.”
The library board sought a 3-mill increase in Searcy real and property taxes in 2017 to build a $13 million, two-story, 35,000-40,000-square foot facility in the old Searcy swimming pool location next to Gin Creek. The athletic club building is around 33,000 square feet and is next to Yancey Park.
“When the architect looked at the old site – this was three years ago – when he was talking to us he said, ‘When you are looking for a site, you want to look for visibility, you want to look as accessibility and you need some green space around you,’” Ino said. “This site meets every one of those criteria. It’s very visible.
“It’s one of the highest traffic counts I think is right there on that intersection of Beebe-Capps. Accessibility; you do have a traffic light to pull out. We are talking about perhaps another entry at the far side of the parking lot. That’s something that would have to be approved, I guess, by the state. ... Accessibility is good and then you have got a park, you’ve got green space and enough parking spots – 99 parking spots as opposed to 35 [at the current library].”
Ino said what those involved want is for “this to be something we all appreciate and enjoy. We want to do it right.”
Ino said this undertaking is a collaborative effort with the city, county, the seller and the regional library system.
“What I’m really excited to see is how we are coming together with this,” she said. “We are so appreciative of the support. We are excited for our community really. There is just so much more and such a good deal they are getting, being able to repurpose a building that is existing. There is just a lot of great things I think people will find out with this.”
Ino said it is impossible to know right now if the $500,000 approved by the White County Quorum Court will be enough for remodeling needs.
“We do know that there are parts [of the building] that can be used without a whole lot of change,” she said. “Upstairs, there are a couple of rooms that were used as workout rooms or whatever but they look pretty close to what you expect a meeting room to look like. The downstairs, that big gym, that space, is just about exactly what we look for, for adult services. The other parts, we just don’t know.”
She said the pool at the club will have to be filled in.