The recently closed Searcy Athletic Club could become the new Searcy Public Library.
Both the White County Quorum Court and the Searcy City Council will have to approve funding first for the move to happen, according to officials, with the White County Regional Library System “in the process of acquiring” the business at the corner of Skyline Drive and West Beebe-Capps Expressway that shut down Sept. 30.
The first step in that direction was taken by the county on Tuesday, when justices of the peace on the budget committee forwarded to the full Quorum Court funding of $250,000 this year and $250,000 next year for the relocation.
White County Judge Michael Lincoln noted that the Searcy Public Library is part of the county library system and said it has outgrown its space and outgrown its parking.
“Two years ago, they tried to pass a city millage to build a new [$13 million] library. It did not fly,” Lincoln said. “They are recently in the process of acquiring a building and some property that’s going to be a win-win for the city and the county; that’s my opinion.
“So the library system has put up $850,000 and the city of Searcy has put up $850,000 to purchase the building. The library has come to us and is asking us to consider to help with the renovation of that property. I would like to recommend that you consider being invested in this project to the tune of $500,000 ... .
“I want it to be clear that you are investing in the Searcy llbrary, you are not investing in the city of Searcy. We would be investing this money into the White County Regional Library System and they will expend it with the renovation.”
Lincoln said he also has made it clear to Clay Goff, president of the White County Regional Library System Board of Directors, and system Director Darla Ino “that if you all do support this, I’m going to insist that I be on that renovation committee, and they both said, ‘Well, yeah.’ I want to make sure our money is spent wisely.”
Lincoln is also a member of the library board.
“This is the way I feel: If you look at any major city you will find that within that city seat there is a viable library system and that viable library system serves as a hub in that community,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Pangburn or Rose Bud, Bald Knob or Searcy; much like our rural fire departments in the rural areas serve as a hub, it is a gathering place for the rural communities: Velvet Ridge, Joy, Antioch, Gum Springs. You know those fire departments. It becomes a natural gathering place either for fish frys or campaigns.
“I think this is a very worthwhile project for you all to consider. When the mayor [Kyle Osborne] first told me about it, I looked at him and said, ‘Well, I don’t know if the court would be willing to help but you better move on this.’ In my opinion, this is a great opportunity for the city of Searcy and I think it’s a great opportunity for White County as well.”
Lincoln said it is “too good of an opportunity for us to pass up for the citizens that we serve.”
“There are lots of things in the facility [the Athletic Club] that they can leave,” he said. “A lot of our senior citizens joined that club just to be able to walk on the track indoors. I think they need to leave that because that attracts senior citizens into this facility.”
Having intergenerational connections is important, Lincoln said. He said it’s good to have people of all ages, from children to senior citizens, interacting in the community.
At Thursday night’s Searcy City Council agenda meeting, Councilman Logan Cothern, who also serves on the library system board, said the Searcy Athletic Club building is about 33,000 square feet. The current Searcy Public Library building is 9,000 square feet and has 35 parking spaces.
Osborne said one of the concerns with remodeling the building is part of the area where the facility is located is in a flood plain.
“Yes, a large portion of it does fall within the special flood hazard area,” City Engineer Mark Lane said. “A smaller portion of it actually falls in the flood way; that shouldn’t be there but it is. It’s been there for 40 years, I’m supposing.
“When you go to do remodeling, one of the rules we enforce on other people – I’m assuming we would make us do the same thing – that limits you to your remodeling of 50 percent of the value of the property, whatever it’s worth now.”
Lane said he didn’t know how they would be determining worth at this time, whether it was going to be appraised or not. He said he doesn’t know how much it needs to be remodeled, but he said the 50 percent spending limit is “cumulative from now on, so it’s something to consider.”
Since the facility is a commercial property, Lane said, there would have to be some floodproofing done on it and that would probably mean some exterior doors would have to be changed to be water-tight if they were closed.
“I don’t think that would be a huge expense,” Lane said, adding that there would probably be other expenses that would have to be considered on the facility.
City Attorney Buck Gibson asked about the creek that runs behind the facility and if there would be the possibility of including some ditching or piping that would allow for a flood map amendment eventually. Lane said the city could look at if it is possible. He said he has been with the city 20 years and never saw water get that far. Lane said a four-week study on it is actually being done right now.
Councilman Don Raney said he would like to move forward on the library next month with two conditions: find out if the county is going to participate and how much and get a more detailed explanation of the flood plain situation because he said, “I want this to be a nice library and if we can’t go in there and rehab it the way we want to because of the limitations of expenditures, I think we need to take a hard look at it.”
“I would need some more information between now and next month to make a decision,” Raney said.
Lane said he would be looking into more information about “the fair market value” of the facility.
The Searcy City Council is expected to discuss the library matter more when it holds its regular meeting Tuesday night at the Carmichael Community Center.