Arlington

New and bigger East Branch Library is part of Arlington bond package

East Arlington residents will one day enjoy a larger branch library with more room for books, literacy and language classrooms and computer labs if voters approve a nearly $5.7 project in the upcoming bond election.

The Nov. 4 election includes four propositions totaling $236 million, the largest bond package in the city’s history. Arlington residents will also be asked to approve about $160 million for street improvements, $60 million for parks and recreation projects and $9.78 million for Fire Department facilities, including a new downtown fire station. Early voting continues through Friday.

In all, the city is seeking almost $6.1 million for two library projects. Most of it would go toward a joint recreation center and library to replace the aging Hugh Smith Recreation Center and the current East Branch Library, which city officials said has become too small to meet the community’s demands.

“As libraries have continued to evolve into a broader level of service to the community, we felt it was important to consider this expansion so that efficiencies could be gained and more community access would be made available,” Councilman Jimmy Bennett said. “A library is much more than just books. It’s a place to meet, gather and grow.”

The other $395,000 of the library proposition would allow the city to create a new entrance and add about 600 square feet to the Woodland West Library, which opened at 2837 W. Park Row Drive in west Arlington 15 years ago.

The automatic accordion-style door at the current entrance, on the south side of the building, is noisy and has frequent maintenance issues, Libraries Director Cary Siegfried said.

“That door has never worked well. We have service calls on it constantly. Sometimes it just stands open for long periods of time and doesn’t close,” Siegfried said, adding that the noisy door regularly generates complaints from patrons. “I don’t think there has ever been a customer service survey where someone hasn’t written ‘Can’t you do something about the door at Woodland West?’ ”

To address the problem, the library proposed to create a new handicap-accessible entrance on the west side of the building, which would also expand the branch slightly. The library would replace the automated door on the south side with a manual door and keep it as an alternate entrance.

The future of the East Branch Library hinges on the parks and recreation bond proposition as well. Arlington voters are also being asked to approve $19.5 million to replace the 50-year-old Hugh Smith Recreation Center. The city proposes a 67,000-square-foot combined facility that would include an indoor pool as well as 13,500 square feet for the library.

If either the parks proposition or the library proposition fails, Siegfried said, the city would have to re-evaluate how to improve the 10,000-square-foot East Branch Library, which opened at 1624 New York Ave. in the 1970s. The branch, which is the busiest in the library system, has 600 to 700 visitors a day, and sometimes the wait for a public computer is an hour, she said.

“One of the things we have always noticed about East Branch is that it doesn’t function as a traditional library. It functions much more like a community center,” Siegfried said. “There are people who are there to use the computers, to meet somebody to work on a project, to spend some time working on their own laptop or to read a magazine. It’s a very high-traffic building.”

The proposed library/recreation center model also features about 12,000 square feet of shared meeting space that could be used for library services, such as story time for preschoolers, technology programming, and classes in literacy and English as a second language.

“That is what we have really been missing in the current building. We have no meeting space or classroom space,” Siegfried said. “That is something we would be really looking forward to in a new building.”

It has not been determined whether the new building would be built on the site of the Hugh Smith Recreation Center or elsewhere on New York Avenue.

Bennett said the proposed bond package, largely shaped by a citizen advisory committee, would not increase the city’s property tax rate and would benefit the community as a whole.

“The bond package is essential for us to continue achieving the goals we’ve set forth to progress what we want Arlington to be for our current and especially our future residents,” he said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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