Projected library plans come with a $25 million price tag

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Marshall County got to see what a 21st century library system in the future could look like.

Consultant Maureen Arndt, hired to develop a 10-year strategic plan for the Marshall County Memorial Library, presented her conclusions to the public on March 29.

Arndt is an architect by training who specializes in library design. She has worked with more than 200 public libraries in her career, including the Williamson and Maury county library systems.

The Library Foundation, with a contribution from the county government, funded the study to develop a long-term needs assessment for the county’s library system.

Her assessment was based on input from residents about services and amenities they would like to see from MCML.

Overall, more than 100 county residents took part in eight different public input sessions and more than 180 filled out online surveys, exploring what they wanted from their library system.

The plan was developed with an eye on the future, specifically 2026 when the population of Marshall County is expected to hit 50,000 residents.

Growth and progress comes with a cost however.

Based on national and state standards for the space needed for each activity in libraries, Arndt came up with 44,000 square feet needed in Lewisburg and 19,000 square feet in Chapel Hill.

Her estimates for the total price tags for those projects, from site preparation to furnishings, are $14.9 million and $6.6 million respectively.

While those numbers are certainly a best-case long-term outcome, it shows that MCML needs to grow if it is to keep up with the growth of the county it serves.

One need she identified at both the Lewisburg and Chapel Hill locations, repeated time and again by residents as well, was more space.

The Chapel Hill location housed in the community center was described by one respondent as “a closet.”

The existing main branch building in Lewisburg is 10,000 square feet. It was built in 1974 when the county population was less than 20,000 residents.

Not spacious by recognized design standards then, a growing population has stretched the library’s capacity even farther.

The study compared MCML with five other Tennessee libraries serving similarly sized communities, LaVergne, Oak Ridge, Union City, Fayetteville, and, as an aspirational comparison, Brentwood.

Despite ranking fifth compared to those peers in staffing levels and funding, MCML is the only one that offered more than one location and ranked first for number of hours operated.

The library holds two volumes for every resident of the county, the minimum suggested by the state, but circulates five items per capita per year. That ranks them third among their peers, and demonstrates, Arndt said, very good spending on materials that patrons want to use.

The report offered several short-term solutions that the library plans to implement in order to maximize what space it does have.

“We have a great community here in Marshall County and we want to serve it with a great library,” said MCML Director Jennifer Pearson. “This is an optimal plan, certainly, but we will take what we can out of it and work from there.”