Baton Rouge is now having its third round of arguments over what to do with the city’s downtown library. How about trying reasoned discussion for a change?
The first controversy on this issue surfaced several years ago, when East Baton Rouge Parish Library officials floated an idea to build the new Main Library downtown. That concept went nowhere, and a new Main Library is being built near its present Goodwood Boulevard location.
Controversy erupted again last year when the Metro Council debated whether to approve a city-parish budget that included $19 million in dedicated library funds to replace the downtown River Center branch with a new library. Critics complained the size and price tag of the proposed new structure were too big. Supporters said the existing River Center branch is too old and small to be renovated, and a new branch is needed to accommodate new technology and meeting space.
Funding for the new branch remained intact in the city-parish budget after opponents of the project on the Metro Council fell one vote shy of the eight-vote supermajority needed to change the budget.
A simple majority of seven council votes is required to approve contracts for the library project. There’s enough continuing opposition to the project on the council to kill it. Library officials have asked to meet with Metro Council members and explain their case for a new River Center branch before the Metro Council votes on the issue again.
Mayor-President Kip Holden has expressed support for a new River Center library branch.
There also has been controversy concerning the architecture selection process for the proposed new library.
We believe any concerns regarding the selection process should be thoroughly explored, but those concerns should not be allowed to discredit the basic merits of a new library branch downtown.
Last year, we expressed support for the concept of a new library branch downtown, with some reservations. We’re concerned adequate parking for a new downtown library will continue to be a problem.
We also wonder if creative partnerships might open up meeting space in nearby city-parish buildings, reducing the need for so much meeting space in the proposed new downtown library.
In our endorsement of the concept, we also urged library officials to be flexible and creative in keeping down the construction cost of a new River Center branch.
We did not believe last year, nor do we believe now, the existing downtown branch can be renovated into a space that would adequately serve the branch’s needs for coming years.
As yet another round of discussions on this project moves forward, we urge everyone to keep an open mind.
We think there’s room for fine-tuning the current concept for a new River Center branch, and library officials should be open to constructive suggestions on that point.
We also hope that council members give library officials a fair hearing and look for areas of compromise too.
Meaningful compromise, though, shouldn’t be an exercise in short-term expedience. As the latest incarnation of this library debate has unfolded, we’ve been thinking a lot about what former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy said in a recent speech in Baton Rouge.
Murphy, known for guiding an urban renaissance in his hometown, cautioned local listeners against what he called “It’ll do disease” — the malady of trying to seek excellence on the cheap.
“You have a choice of doing ‘It’ll do’ because that’s all we could afford, or reaching for excellence, saying, ‘We’re going to build first-class,’ ” Murphy told Baton Rouge area residents.
Baton Rouge is a community where no expense seems to be spared in building or improving facilities for the flagship university’s football and baseball teams, but where spending on a branch library or public school buildings can raise eyebrows.
In building successful cities as in building success elsewhere, we should remember that we get what we pay for.