Guild tours DHR building that could become new public library
by David Atchison
PELL CITY – Library Guild members toured the former St. Clair County Department of Human Resources building, which could become the city’s new public library.

“We want to work together as a team,” Councilwoman Sharon Thomas told Library Guild members who gathered near Dr. John Haynes Drive to tour the former DHR building Tuesday morning.

More than a dozen people toured the DHR facility which was abandoned more than three years ago after one wing of the building was gutted by fire from an arsonist.

City officials said workers could renovate the facility into a first-rate media center, providing three times more space than the current library.

“We’re committed to the whole project,” said Mayor Joe Funderburg. “We feel like it could work with your help.”

The Guild has about $230,000, and the city has about $350,000 earmarked for a new library.

“We cannot do this without the financial assistance of the Library Guild,” City Manager Patrick Draper told members of the guild.

The city is in the process of obtaining the land deed for about 21 acres, which include the old St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital and DHR building, from the St. Clair County Commission.

“It still has to be officially approved by the council Thursday night,” Draper said.

City officials said the proposed library is part of a planned municipal complex area surrounded by thriving commercial businesses and professional office buildings.

“You have to look past what you see now,” Draper said.

He said trees that block the view of the former DHR building can be selectively cut, providing a public park for library patrons.

A wellness/fitness/ aquatic center could occupy space adjacent to the library.

“The concern that the library is going to be out here by itself is false,” Draper said.

He said the city will hire a library planner and have a structural engineer and builder evaluate the facility to see if builders can eliminate walls inside the building to make the facility more open.

“We don’t want a second-rate library,” Funderburg said.

“We do want a state-of-the-art media center,” Draper added.

Draper said it is important to get “your feet in the door,” and the building could be completed after the public library moves into the renovated part of the building.

Draper said the city may have to complete the renovation of the new library in phases.

“It may not turn out as a lock and key job,” Draper said. “We may have to plan this out in phases.”

Draper asked that the Library Guild to form a committee to offer suggestions and to help decide the direction for the new media center. The committee will also work with a library planner to help design the facility.

“We really need a professional to come in and say what this is going to cost us to get in here,” Funderburg said, adding that the city will look for new funding sources and grants.

He said the city needs a plan and an overall estimate of the renovation work.

The former DHR facility is “H” shape. It also has a patio area and kitchen.

“I’ve been told the heating and air units are intact,” Draper said.

Draper said he thinks the building is about 15 years old.

Library Guild member Faye Hall said it was important the guild had all available information before committing its money to the project.

“If y'all reject it, we’ll move on to another plan,” Funderburg said, but said he thought the opportunity for a new library is there. “This has the potential to be as nice as we want it.”

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© 2012