Fingers crossed — East Baton Rouge library board eyeing Quail Drive site for long-delayed South Branch _lowres


Library officials have found an attractive spot for the long-desired South Branch, though they haven’t locked down the property just yet.

The site, on Quail Drive off Perkins Road near the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, features a 16,000-square-foot office building currently occupied by the Louisiana Licensing Board for Contractors.

Thursday, the library’s Board of Control voted to take steps toward a potential purchase. That will include enlisting a city architect to examine the building and speaking with legal counsel about drawing up a preliminary purchase agreement, said Library Director Spencer Watts.

Board members were excited when they first heard about the property last month, and repeated their enthusiasm Thursday. Logan Leger said the building is a good size for a new branch and appears well maintained, though he wishes it were on a busier thoroughfare.

Watts praised the location and parking options, though he pointed out that architects will have to find a way to safely take down some interior walls and possibly raise some ceilings to make room for collections.

There also was some discussion about when the property will be available. Licensing board Executive Director Michael McDuff said his agency is preparing to move downtown to be closer to the State Capitol, but said he is “not in any great rush” to sell.

Library officials believe it may be a year or so before the contractors are ready to move out, and they discussed writing language into any potential sale that would include a definite ownership transfer date.

It isn’t a new concern. In 2010, the library system entered into plans to build the South Branch at the Rouzan mixed-use development, but after three years without a new library, the board pulled out, citing frustration over the slow pace of development.

They instead pinned their hopes on a new site on Kenilworth Parkway not far from the Quail Drive location. However, a few months later, Pennington, which owned the property, opted to hold onto the undeveloped land rather than sell.

The search for a new location has languished so long that board members earlier this year began to wonder if they’d ever find a place for the South Branch. While they’ve found a ready-made site and a motivated seller, a few hurdles remain.

The occupants are asking for $3 million, but the library board hasn’t completed an independent appraisal yet. The system isn’t allowed to pay more than appraised value, so they’re waiting to see if the Quail Drive site is in their price range, Watts said. And even if the seller starts with a price they’re able to pay, a private company may still outbid them.

McDuff said the office has attracted some interest from agencies other than the library system, though he declined to name them.

In other business Thursday, the library board voted to include electronic smoking devices in their ban on tobacco products at library facilities and the board lowered the overdue fee for DVDs and Blu-ray Discs from $1 per day to 50 cents. They also set a special meeting for 4 p.m. July 13 to work on next year’s budget.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.