An East Baton Rouge Parish library board member and administrators are promising to seek public input on the design of the controversial $19 million downtown library the board plans to build.
“We are going to have a variety of different kinds of meetings,” Mary Stein, the library system’s co-director, said last week. “We don’t want to design something that people don’t want to use.”
Library administrators already have met with representatives of Washer Hill Lipscomb Cabaniss Architecture, the firm designing the building, Stein said.
Stein said she hopes to begin holding meetings with individual board members and architects as early as August before conducting public meetings on the project this fall.
At least one of the meetings will be a large, open forum, Stein said.
“We will open it up to public comment, like (LSU’s) Free Speech Alley,” she said.
Public input will be solicited through online and printed surveys, Stein said.
Every opinion, solicited or not, would be recorded, she said.
“Some will be small focus groups with targeted populations, like teenagers, children and people who live in that area,” she said.
The board also plans to hold meetings with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the Downtown Development District.
Mention of the latter three groups drew a sharp retort from library activist John Berry, who referred to them as “major downtown political organizations.”
“These people are in it for the money and the acreage and so forth,” Berry told Library Board of Control members during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting.
Berry also criticized the amount of public input collected in connection with the new main library on Goodwood and said he did not want to see the same thing happen downtown.
“I hear your suggestions and we can actually think about doing some other modes of hearing and letting the public participate,” board member Tanya Freeman told Berry.
Freeman said transparency is crucial.
“This downtown library has caused more disturbance and controversy, so we want to make sure that everyone is heard as we get closer to making decisions,” said Tanya Freeman, one of the Library Board members.
The project has survived several attempts to kill it, most recently in May, when the design contract came up before the Metro Council.
The council approved the contract, 7-4, but Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois said every time a library construction item comes before the council, the item gives the council an opportunity to kill the project.
The new 57,000-square-foot library will double the footprint of the more than 30-year-old downtown library on St. Louis Street near North Boulevard.
Stein said the board and planners would try to incorporate as many of the suggestions received as feasible into the new library, but not everything would get in.
“When you put it all in, you can’t do all of it,” she said. “Otherwise, you design a platypus.”
Administrators are focusing now on making sure the new building is functional, efficient and adaptable, she said.
“You don’t want to put the children’s collection right next to the adult’s collection,” Stein said.
“We want to limit adult access to the children’s room for the safety of the children.”
Stein said other considerations included technological infrastructure and making sure the facility would be adaptable to new technologies.