Dooley pledges review of new library projects

Those who supported Prop L ‘got buffaloed,’ Hamilton says

By Gloria Lloyd

County Executive Charlie Dooley, who appoints the members of the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees, last week promised groups opposed to new libraries in north and south county that he would look into how the library has gone about its construction projects.

“I will research it, I’ll look into it, I can’t tell you what the outcome’s going to be,” Dooley told representatives of Save Tesson Ferry Library and Modern STL. “I’m not saying what you’re saying is not legitimate. I’m just saying what people told me, what they said they voted for. I will say this: I will look into it. But I cannot promise you anything.”

Organizers of both groups are encouraging residents to send emails or letters to Dooley, urging him to intervene to stop the projects.

“After Prop L went through, the library’s attitude changed,” Ed Ryan, secretary of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, told the County Council April 1. “‘We got the money, we don’t need to listen.'”

The new libraries are being funded through an $11 million-a-year tax-rate increase, Proposition L, which will not sunset after the $108 million in countywide construction projects and renovations are completed.

Library Executive Director Kristen Sorth said the library told voters that the Tesson Ferry Branch would be replaced on a new site before they voted for Prop L.

“So we’ve really been talking about it publicly in board meetings since 2008, and then before the tax campaign, we were definitely talking about replacing it on a different site,” Sorth said. “We never said during the campaign that we were going to build on that site. We always said we’ll replace it at another location.”

When Dooley told the groups against the new libraries that residents had voted for the tax-rate increase knowing what it was for, Ryan noted that the new campaign against the libraries was spurred by information about the land that he received through a Sunshine Law request that only had to be filled after the library closed on its new site at Gravois and Musick in February.

When citizens voted for Prop L in November 2012, they did not expect the new Tesson Ferry Branch to be moved to Gravois and Musick, Green Park Ward 1 Alderman Carol Hamilton told the council, adding that the largest advantage to locating the library at that intersection is the view of Grant’s Farm across the street.

“I can slowly drive down Gravois Road and steal a glance if I want to see a buffalo. I can ride the choo-choo train at Grant’s Farm if I want to see the buffalo,” she said. “I guess at the end of the day, you can say that everyone that voted for Proposition L got buffaloed.”

Among the Save Tesson Ferry group’s criticisms of the project is that the library overpaid for the $2.9 million tract of land it bought from developer McBride Berra, which is building two subdivisions next to the library site and bought the property as part of a 65-acre tract for $6.5 million a year before selling to the library. Ryan, who is an engineer and helped buy and build on land for three MFPD firehouses, said he calculated the total costs of the different sites the library was considering for the south county location and, when road improvements of an estimated $1.2 million are also included, the Gravois-Musick site is more expensive than the other sites.

The county Department of Highways and Traffic’s current estimates project that improvements to Musick Road at the library and subdivision site could cost $1.2 million, with the county paying $700,000 and McBride Berra and the library splitting the other $520,000, said Public Information Manager David Wrone.

The expenses will “likely increase slightly” due to right of way and utility relocation, although it is not yet determined how the added costs would be split, he added.

Both before and after Prop L passed, library officials promised that public input would play a role in the library’s plans. So far in the library’s planned Phase I of the project, which included three new libraries being built at Tesson Ferry in Green Park, Lewis & Clark in Moline Acres and Meramec Valley in Fenton, all three of the libraries have faced opposition from residents and groups opposing the projects.

Then-Executive Director Charles Pace resigned for unexplained reasons last July, when then-Assistant Director for Administration Sorth took over as interim and then permanent executive director.

“I can’t really speak to that,” Sorth said about pre-election promises that the public would be involved in selecting the site of the new Tesson Ferry Library. “I don’t really know what the plans were, what the thoughts were with that … We started the process when Charles was still here to select the site, and he was still here through that selection. He’s not here anymore, so I can’t really speak to what he said then.”

The new Meramec Valley Branch is completely back to the drawing board after the Fenton Board of Aldermen rejected a special-use permit for it in January. The library has moved it back to a later phase of the project and moved up some of the planned system-wide renovations.