Tuesday, August 04, 2015

TOP STORY >> Panel picks Sherwood library site

Leader staff writer

A Sherwood committee voted 6-1 Thursday to recommend 21 acres at the intersection of Oakbrooke Drive and East Woodruff Avenue as the future home of a new $6 million library.

The city council will vote on whether to give final approval of the site at its Aug. 24 meeting.

The land is priced at $496,000 — less than half the $1 million budget for that part of the project.

The wooded property is behind the Miller’s Crossing subdivision on Hwy. 107. It’s between there and where Oakbrooke Drive, traveling from Kiehl Avenue, comes to a dead end.

The site is north of East Maryland Avenue, and south of Hwy. 107.

Committee Chairwoman Lupe Pena-Valadez said that location was chosen for its cost, flexibility and potential for natural features, like walking trails.

She added that the committee wants the “integrity of the community” to remain and for the architects to be “respectful” of nearby homes.

The library is being constructed with a temporary 1.3-mill increase — about $39 in annual property taxes for the owners of $150,000 houses — voters approved in November.

The price of the recommended site will drop even more because four lots offered that aren’t contiguous won’t be needed, committee member and Alderman Ken Keplinger added.

The committee agreed, too, that a public meeting should be held once a preliminary design for the library is completed.

Also, some of the savings from purchasing land for less than the budgeted $1 million will go toward connecting the two pieces of Oakbrooke Drive, which has long been part of the city’s master street plan.

There was some discussion about putting a fire station on two or three lots of the property in the future, but library bond money can’t be used for anything but what is needed for the library.

Steve Grisham of Taggart Architects told the group before it voted that the chosen site was his top pick, noting that his firm didn’t consider the price tag.

“To us, after walking it, it’s a pretty good site…There’s a lot more potential for growth there.”

Mayor Virginia Young, after the meeting, said the site presented an “opportunity” to build a library with park-like features, such as an outdoor amphitheater.

Multiple entrances, a retention pond to help with drainage, a gate and lighting to discourage vandalism were also discussed at the meeting.

Keplinger said integrating the building with its natural surroundings would make it “not just a library. It’s a destination.”

The committee looked at 13 choices, but had narrowed those down to four by the beginning of its meeting last week.

Then, when none of the members voiced support for two of the four sites, the two remaining were formally voted on.

Keplinger was the one dissenting vote, as he favored a 5.25-acre site closer to the city’s municipal complex and behind the Bill Harmon Recreation Center. It was also behind First Christian Church on Kiehl Avenue.

But, the alderman said after the vote, the chosen site was a good deal.

That’s because the 5.25 acres were appraised at $600,000.

About the runner-up, Grisham noted, “It does have some terrain to deal with, but all these sites have that. The main objections we had are it’s just not really central to future growth.

“It’s kind of in a dated area and doesn’t have any potential for nature trails. And the views aren’t all that great, looking at the back of the church.”

Keplinger pointed out that the chosen site is only a few blocks from the center of the most densely populated part of Sherwood, according to a study the city had done.

He also said traffic would increase from people using the new connected road as a cut-through.

Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), added, “It’s in the middle of neighborhood, surrounded by really pretty, nice homes and a future primary arterial cross street…I think you’ve got a lot of potential out there (for a) first-class facility.”

The two sites were eliminated because no one spoke for them were listed at $960,000 each for less acreage than the recommended land.

One was behind the Mapco gas station on Hwy. 107 and near Sylvan Hills Middle School.

The other was also on Hwy. 107, by the Millers Crossing subdivision.