The East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board on Thursday rejected a nonprofit organization’s request for $1 million to $3 million to create and operate a “mini branch” library in a proposed children’s museum at City Park.
Library Board of Control members said they like the concept of the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, but said the library system doesn’t have the money to make such a large financial commitment to it.
“To use public funds for this at this time I don’t think would be a wise decision,” said Kizzy Payton, the Library Board’s chairman. “They may have to find another way to raise the money. Right now, we have a lot on the table.”
The request for financial support came from Clarice “Cricket” Gordon, who chairs the nonprofit group that is seeking to build the children’s museum.
She said after the meeting that the Library Board’s decision was disappointing, but that the group still intends to move forward with raising funds for the project.
The group’s plans call for the construction of a 30,000-square-foot building on a hill overlooking City Park. The museum would have 18 “hands on” exhibits.
Gordon had proposed a partnership with the library that would include a 1,000-square-foot portion of the building for a mini branch library and would incorporate books on the exhibit themes.
She suggested that the Library Board enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Knock Knock Children’s Museum similar to one that the nonprofit group has with the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission.
BREC agreed to provide the site for the museum and $3 million for planning and design work. The financial contribution is coming from investment earnings from a private donation earmarked for children’s and other programs, not from tax dollars, according to BREC officials.
Library Board member Don Browning noted a branch library at a museum at City Park would be near the Carver branch library. He questioned the need for another library branch there.
“Are we going to have a library on every corner?” Browning questioned. “We throw money out like we’ve got a printing press as far as me and a lot of the public is concerned.”
Two members of the public, Gayle Smith and John Berry, also said it would be a bad idea to commit library funds to the museum.
“If they are a private, nonprofit group, they should raise their own money privately and do it on their own,” Berry said.
Several Library Board members said they would like to find ways to partner with the Knock Knock Children’s Museum in ways that don’t require a financial commitment from the library.
“We would like to keep the conversation open on this issue,” Payton said.
The Library Board also discussed the possibility of changing its scheduled meetings from monthly to every other month.
Three residents — Berry, James A. George and Mark Holmes — spoke against the proposal. They suggested it was a way for the Library Board to limit public participation and stifle criticism.
Berry questioned how the board could adequately manage $74 million in capital construction projects and $38 million in annual revenues if it only met six times a year.
“You can’t do business this way and do it properly,” Berry said.
But Payton said the proposal to shift to six meetings a year — which the board will vote on next month — isn’t motivated by trying to restrict public participation.
Payton said the board often has few items on its agenda and there is no need for monthly meetings.
“We’re trying to make sure we make the best use of the board’s time,” she said.