Metro councilman shocked many people still go to the library
BATON ROUGE - A simple item on Wednesday's Metro Council agenda about leasing space for a temporary downtown library turned into a bizarre discussion about how many people visit libraries and the economic differences between people on either side of town.
The library board wants to spend $14,583.33 a month to rent space at 447 3rd Street while the new River Center Branch Library is built. In 2010, a $19 million project was approved to replace the aging library next to city hall in downtown.
Some metro council members thought the lease was steep and while questioning the need for a full, temporary library one council person was shocked to hear about the amount of patrons visiting the location.
"I just cannot see how that is even possible," John Delgado said to Library Director Spencer Watts when Watts said some 92,000 people go through the downtown library each year. "That's about 250 per day. I don't know that city hall has that many visitors," Delgado said.
Councilman John Delgado discusses an expensive lease for a temporary library Wednesday
"We use laser counters and they tend to under count," Watts affirmed. Watts said he understands the number might appear high, but said he has seen very busy days at the branch and slow days. Delgado, an attorney, said he is frequently near the library because he attends court across the street and it always appears slow to him.
Library Director Spencer Watts addresses the Metro Council
While Delgado's thoughts may have been surprising and frustrating to the library executives in attendance Wednesday, it came about as he was trying to argue the library could spend its money more wisely. Delgado asked if city hall could be used as a library location for people to access computers and Internet instead of renting a space for an entire library collection temporarily.
Renderings of a new River Center library location are vastly different from the current library
Councilman Trae Welch added the money could be better spent elsewhere in the system. Possibly at other branches, Welch said at the council meeting.
Welch also questioned if unused state facilities in the downtown area could be used.
The council decided to delay any decision on a lease agreement until there is a further investigation into real estate.
Delaying the plan, though, frustrated Councilwoman Tara Wicker who argued the downtown branch serves an important role in economically-challenged neighborhoods outside of the traditional downtown area.
"Get whatever information y'all need, but please consider the citizens involved that are going to be without their library services during this time," she said. Wicker told the council she knows of parents who walk blocks to take their kids to the downtown branch. She said she believes the library board exhausted all efforts and found the best location to lease in the old Kress Building near the corner of 3rd and Main.
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