published Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

New Benton building in the works for West Polk Library

This will be the new home of West Polk County Library off U.S. Highway 411.
This will be the new home of West Polk County Library off U.S. Highway 411.
Photo by Paul Leach.

BENTON, Tenn. -- The West Polk Library, which now operates inside the Benton Courthouse, is moving closer to getting a newer and larger home.

Late last week, the Polk County Commission voted 8-0 to approve a 10-year lease agreement with the Friends of the Library Association, which has plans to purchase a 6,500-square-foot building that recently housed medical practices near U.S. Highway 411.

"It offers good parking and good accessibility, and it would be much bigger," said Sally Love, chairwoman of the library association. "I think it would be a good thing for the county."

Another advantage of the new facility, she said, is that the extra space will allow all computers bought for the West Polk Library to be accessible to patrons. Limited room in the library now has prevented use of all its computers.

According to earlier discussions among the library board, the friends group and county commissioners, about half the facility space will be dedicated to library usage. The balance of the space could be used for other friends projects.

The $1-per-year lease agreement with the friends group also calls for the county to cover utilities, insurance and janitorial services for the facility. The friends group, as the landlord, will be responsible for maintenance. Love said annual utility costs were estimated at between $3,000 and $3,600.

Before the vote on the lease agreement, Commissioner Daren Waters asked for assurance that the library would change its hours to give evening access to patrons, especially students and working adults.

Love and Jimmy Logan, the county attorney, both said that recent conversations with the library board indicated that they plan to increase public access by keeping the library open past 5 p.m. at least some of the time. The library's courthouse location now forces closure by 5 p.m.

Commissioner John Pippenger abstained from voting on the agreement due to budgetary concerns, he said. The new budget has not been finalized.

"We should have had the budget lines ready," Pippenger said.

According to a proposal by the library board, it would like to increase the operating hours for the western and eastern branches of the Polk County library system by eight hours each. The Benton and Copperhill locations now operate 24 hours a week.

The additional hours would add an estimated $7,300 to the library budget, according to calculations in the proposal.

It is the board's ultimate goal to offer 40 hours of library access each week for both libraries, said Arthur Bigham, chairman of the library board, in the proposal.

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