Second chapter of new Library is a great read

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What has long been a divisive issue in the Mesquite community appears to be on the healing track.

Many people were angered when the previous Susan Holecheck mayoral administration paid $1.7 million for a 3-acre empty lot on Mesquite Boulevard, saying the city grossly overpaid for the land. Even though Holecheck said the Clark County Library District intended to build a new library on the lot, at the time that proved to be untrue. The Library District said it had no money and no plans for a new building because of the effects from the deep recession that began in 2008.

Recently, the district approached the City of Mesquite saying their fortunes have improved over the last few years and they are now ready to proceed with a new facility. The city council gave its provisional approval to turning over the vacant land to the district along with the adjacent existing library.

Acting as the Redevelopment Agency at its July 14 meeting, the council requested a current appraisal on the vacant lot and want construction to start on the new facility within 12 months. If those two things don’t happen, the city will retain ownership of the vacant lot and the existing library. And, the council retains final approval of the ultimate plans.

While the city will not recoup any of the millions of dollars it paid – overpaid – for the property, the deed is done and cannot be reversed. Two things lead us to throw our hands up and move on; no one else has approached the city all these years offering to purchase the property; does it really make sense for taxpayers to shell out money from the library fund to reimburse taxpayers for the original overpayment?

Perhaps it’s time to turn the page.

Dr. Ronald Heezen, Clark County Library District executive director, told the council the initial architectural process will ask stakeholders “What is it you expect? What is it you want from your new library? This is not our building; this is the community’s. We’re putting it here for the community use, and it needs to reflect the community’s needs and desires.

Last week Dr. Heezen led a contingent of library employees and architectural designers to Mesquite for a day-long meeting with various local citizens, business leaders and city employees in an effort to understand what the community wants in its new facility.

Just having an initial dialogue with local people rather than deciding from a hundred miles away what’s best for us is an amazing start in itself. Too many times public entities have already determined ‘they know best’ and jam something down our throats. What a small rural community wants and needs is often far different than what works best for a major metropolitan city.

Margaret Sullivan, lead architect on the new project, led the input discussions with local citizens filling pages and pages with desires, ideas, wishes and yes, even demands, of what the new Library should be. She explained that the programming phase will take about four months incorporating the “best and brightest” goals for the new library.

“This will be more than a warehouse for books. We will focus more on active learning and the ways of which are actively expanding,” she commented.

That is a great start.

Some still see the primary role of libraries as an old-fashioned free book store where you check your voice at the door and wear out your tippy-toes. Mesquite’s message to library officials is that our community wants much more.

One participant in the discussions described his ideal library as “the new town hall.” Others asked for dedicated learning areas that fill needs across the spectrum, from families to teens and tweens creating a café-type atmosphere without forgetting ritual users.

“A great library can be an entertainment center with modern technology at its core,” said another. That thought mirrors what many folks have said they want in the new facility. One of the most prevalent desires is a performing arts center that can host different types of performances like the Southern Nevada Symphony Orchestra or showroom-like acts.

While initial information indicated the new library building will be limited to one story approaching 16,000 square feet costing close to $7 million, Dr. Heezen seemed to back away from that somewhat. “We want to see what Mesquite wants and what we can do to accommodate you folks before we make our final plans.”

Wow! That’s a concept you don’t see very often from public officials.

Dr. Heezen promised to bring back Ms. Sullivan’s architectural plans for a second look by the people who will use the new facility the most – the citizens of Mesquite.

While it’s a sure bet Mesquite won’t get everything it wants, needs, or desires, the new Library is already on track to heal an old wound and make it a showplace the community can be proud of.

Let’s say at this point the plot of this book has yet to be revealed but it promises lots of twists and turns. We just hope it doesn’t turn into pulp fiction.

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