PRAIRIEVILLE — A long-awaited, and in some quarters, controversial $3.3 million expansion of the Ascension Parish Library’s Galvez branch is expected to start Monday.
Library officials have said they plan to add two wings encompassing 13,000 square feet, nearly double the number of parking spaces to nearly 100 and renovate the existing library.
Angelle Deshautelles, library director, said the library operates on a 20-year plan, and the Galvez branch, which was finished in 1992, is nearly 25 years old. It was built to serve 15,000 people but now must serve an estimated 40,000.
“We’re excited. We’re looking forward to this. It’s been a long time coming,” Deshautelles said.
Library officials, employees of Stuart and Co. General Contractors and architect Henry Chauvin met Tuesday afternoon at the branch along La. 42 in Prairieville to coordinate details on keeping the 10,000-square-foot branch open during the 14-month job.
The branch’s main entrance on La. 42 will be closed to public traffic during construction.
Some parish leaders have questioned whether the library’s 6.8 mills is an appropriate allocation of the tax given the rise of online information sources and at a time when the parish has struggled to raise new taxes for infrastructure.
Parish Councilman Aaron Lawler, whose District 7 includes the Galvez branch, recently called into question the necessity of the expansion while a long-awaited new branch in St. Amant awaits revenue for construction.
When the Parish Council Finance Committee considered approving the low-bid for the project in May, Lawler claimed the Galvez branch, which he says he has visited, was under-utilized. He also said library branches are overstaffed and funding for the expansion should be shifted to build a new branch in St. Amant, estimated to cost $5.1 million.
In a later open editorial letter, Lawler wrote the library pulled in nearly $8 million in property tax revenue in 2015, the third highest taxing entity in the parish.
Lawler said he wants to ask voters to rededicate a small portion of the library’s millages to roads.
“We could really use the money,” Lawler said.
But Deshautelles and other library officials said that some parish officials have long viewed the library’s funding as an easy target but fail to understand the library’s financing strategy.
Deshautelles said the library plans new construction by waiting for tax revenues to reach a point that a new branch or expansion can be adequately staffed with existing revenue streams.
Once that point is close, the library sets aside enough of that savings. State law allows libraries to shift the operational money for construction purposes.
When construction is done, she said, the new library is paid for and can be operated.
She said the library system is expected to have enough revenue available to start construction of the St. Amant branch in 2018. The library already owns 13 acres along La. 431 for the branch.
Library officials also have disputed that the Galvez branch and other branches are under-used, even in the day of the internet.
Deshautelles noted that more and more tasks need to be done on the web, though many residents in the parish don’t have internet access at home. The library system’s meeting rooms and study rooms were each used more than 1,000 times in 2015. When asked, she suggested the claim of under-utilization may more reflect the perceptions of those unfamiliar with the library.
Deshautelles said the Galvez project has been on tap since a $9 million bond issue in 2005 for library expansions in Dutchtown and Gonzales.
She said the Gonzales branch expansion came in $2.9 million cheaper than expected due to the economic conditions at the time and freed up revenue for the Galvez branch.
The 30-year library bonds, which parish government issued for the library system, did not require voter approval, but the library pays them off on behalf of parish government with the library’s property taxes.
Throughout the recent afternoon meeting between library officials and their contractors, the small branch’s electronic door was busy opening and closing, as mothers with young children and others could be seen walking through.
Jeanne Corkern, 38, a Prairieville mother who was selecting books for her two children, said that in comparison with other branches, the Galvez branch needs expansion so her children have more space. But she said she believes the branch isn’t as busy as others in the parish.
“I think it’s definitely needed. The only thing is sometimes I don’t like coming to this one because I hate traveling (La.) 42,” she said.
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