San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 13th, 2008
Circling the square

COMMENTARY
By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

KYLE – When two problems seem intractable, the solution to each may lie in combining them.

Take, for example, a recent Kyle City Council meeting, in which that august body learned that a renovation of the historic city hall is too rich for the city’s blood right now, as is a potential downtown location for a new library. What to do?

Assistant City Manager James Earp threw one idea on the table, though the table was outside the council chambers. Without endorsing or campaigning for the idea, Earp simply opened up a thought experiment: How about renovating the old city hall, then placing a new library on the town square, incorporating the renovated city hall as part of the library space?

Advantages: The costs for the two projects, which the city puts at a combined $4 million, could be reduced to about $3 million. How? By subtracting the $670,000 city hall renovation from the $3 million cost of the library building, then subtracting the $300,000 cost of library land acquisition, since the city already owns the town square.

A 15,000-square-foot library could be achieved by including the 3,000 square feet of the old city hall, then building an additional 12,000 square feet of library space. The new library space could be a two-story building on a 6,000-square-foot footprint. And the new library could be a nice appointment to the original part of Kyle.

Disadvantages: The old city hall would be obscured. The space on the town square would dramatically shrink, and there would be no provision for parking beyond that already available on the local streets. Furthermore, a two-story library requires more staff, because it’s much easier for a librarian to watch one floor than two.

It might not be exactly the right idea, but it is a fascinating idea. The old city square isn’t as lively as it used to be. Fair on the Square has moved to Gregg-Clarke Park, the renewed Market Days have moved across the street, the city council isn’t using the old city hall and even the Kyle Area Senior Zone has been forced to move out due to the building’s condition.

The city square right in the middle of town needs an active, living centerpiece. An old building useful only as an artifact of history won’t do in such a crucial location. Perhaps a library project as part of the city hall renovation is too large, because it would eat up the square.

But maybe something else? What kind of project would at once restore and preserve the old city hall, make it cost effective for the city, bring the building back to life and draw activity to the city square?

Put your thinking caps on. This is a good one.

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