Mansfield News

Library board asks council for help

The City Council lent an ear Monday to supporters who hope to rekindle discussions about helping the Mansfield Public Library keep up with demand.

“We’re a growing community, and our library needs to grow, too,” Suzonne Evans, president of the city’s library advisory board, said at a 45-minute joint work session of the council and the board.

The board has a lengthy wish list, but members said a survey of about 250 residents was distilled to three overriding needs – more space, more computers and more resources.

There was no action taken and no future meetings scheduled, but several council members asked the board to come back with more details.

Concerns about an undersized library have abounded for many years. In 2004, voters approved a bond package that included $1.5 million for the library that at the time would have funded a 10,000-square-foot expansion of the current 15,300-square-foot building.

But when the library’s turn came in Year 4 of the five-year bond schedule, inflation had eroded the buying power of its allotment, and the national economic downturn had hit Mansfield, forcing city officials to reevaluate priorities and trim the general operating budget – putting off library improvements.

In early 2013, the council was considering a $100 million bond election that tentatively would have included an 11,406-square-foot library expansion or construction of a new 50,000-square-foot library for $16.6 million. But those were dropped as the council whittled the bond list down to $35 million, and then scrapped the entire bond plan because of lingering economic concerns and a lukewarm public response to most of the projects.

But Library Director Steve Standefer said the meeting with the council was not to rehash old plans, but to start a new discussion.

“We’re at square one,” he said after the meeting. “We’re going to do some homework for them, find out some more details.”

The board said the library is trailing newly adopted state standards for libraries. Its total collection of 72,000 books, CDs and other materials should be more than 120,000 for a city with Mansfield’s population, about 60,000.

The library has 24 computers, compared with the recommended 40 computers. It’s open 50 hours a week but needs to be open 60 to 64 hours to meet standards. The library’s four accredited librarians on staff meet the standards, but its support staff of five is 12 to 18 staffers short.

“We need direction as to what they want us to do,” Evans said after the work session. “We’re the advisory board; we have our big dreams, but they hold the money strings.”

At the public meeting later Monday, the council, with little discussion, gave first-round approval to an ordinance amendment that includes tighter restrictions on restaurants that have drive-through lanes. Among the requirements is that they apply for specific use permits, which require council review. The council has scheduled special meetings Tuesday and Wednesday mornings to fast-track approval of the amendments before a 90-day moratorium on plans for building such restaurants.

Two fast-food restaurant chains have asked for exceptions to the amendment. The council, which previously tabled the requests, did not act on them Monday.