As part of an email campaign with a goal of keeping the Tesson Ferry Library at its current location, hundreds of south county residents emailed County Executive Charlie Dooley last week to ask him to intervene in the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees’ plan to move the branch.
Dooley, who had previously said that he would review the process through which the library board is building a replacement library at Gravois and Musick roads, told the Call he is still conducting his review, although so far he believes all legal means were followed.
Dooley’s main challenger in the August Democratic primary, 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said he takes no position on the library, since he believes his constituents are split down the middle. Stenger and the Council voted 7-0 in January to approve road improvements for the new site at Gravois and Musick.
“I’ve heard from as many people that are against the library as I’ve heard from people that are for the library,” Stenger told the Call. “So my position — just by the makeup of the opposition and the makeup of those that are in favor — is neutral. And it is a situation where the library authority is who makes that decision.”
The group opposing the library’s move, the Save Tesson Ferry Library Committee, is organizing an ongoing email campaign to Dooley in an attempt to save the library. Members planned to appear at the library board’s meeting Monday afternoon in Frontenac in conjunction with groups opposing St. Louis County’s new libraries in Moline Acres and Fenton — after the Call went to press.
Many south county residents wrote Dooley, saying how beloved the current Tesson Ferry Library is to them and that they did not realize when they voted for the library’s $11-million-a-year Proposition L tax-rate increase in 2012 that it would mean it would be moved.
“I do not think the public had much of a say in this and if you polled the customers at that branch, you would find that most of them prefer to keep it where it is,” Carol Moriarity wrote Dooley.
Dooley controls and reads his own email account, Dooley’s south county liaison, Jonathan Boesch, told the Call.
A central theme among those emailing Dooley was that they believe the library’s current location at 9920 Lin Ferry Drive is central to south county and accessible to everyone, including children, who easily walk or bike to the location after school, with one resident calling the new library location “total abandonment of the population (Tesson Ferry) had been serving.”
“I have never reached out to any politician on any matter via email but I could not ignore this one,” John Wolf wrote. “Of course the people of Green Park want to keep it in their city because it is in their backyard, but as a non-Green Park resident, the main reason (to keep the site) is because it is a very central location with easy access for all of south county.”
“I voted for Prop L. If I had known that would mean the Tesson Library would be moving I would not have voted for it,” wrote Rebecca Pavelka. “The only children who will benefit are those who live in the new subdivision. Walking to the library gave the kids some independence — they could get there on their own! Please don’t take that opportunity away from the kids.”
The youngest county resident to send an email to Dooley on Tesson Ferry was Sophia, 13, who said she has been going to the library her whole life and learned to love reading there, but will not be able to go to Gravois and Musick.
“Having this branch relocated would take away everything that I love about the library. Having a new location placed by Grant’s Farm would make it no longer possible for me to quickly swoop by on a moment’s notice to check out a book, or ride my bike there in the summer,” she said. “While a small inconvenience of mine is most likely no concern of yours, I’m obviously not the only one with these feelings. Even though my tax dollars don’t fund Saint Louis County Libraries, that doesn’t mean I won’t be affected. Please, please consider saving Tesson Ferry Branch. It would mean so much to me and many other citizens of St. Louis County.”
Many of the residents told Dooley that they believe the library overpaid when it bought the 4.2-acre Gravois-Musick property from developer McBride Berra for $2.9 million. McBride Berra, a collaboration of builder McBride and Son and developer J.H. Berra, paid $6.25 million for 67 acres, including the library site, in 2012. McBride Berra is using the property for two future subdivisions next to the library, Grant’s View and the Manors at Grant’s View.
The library conducted its real estate appraisal, which affirmed the $2.9 million price tag, after it signed the contract to buy the property at that price. The appraisal did not include McBride Berra’s own purchase of the same property a year earlier or Cor Jesu Academy’s $2.2 million purchase of 16 acres next door.
Some of the residents sending emails disputed that it was too late for the library’s decision to change, even though the library bought the property. Library officials said that Prop L voters were told the Tesson Ferry Library would move to a new site.
“Fairly or unfairly, I believe the public saw Prop L as a way to keep our community libraries well-funded and strong not specifically to moving them out of their immediate area,” wrote David Van de Riet, vice chairman of the Green Park Planning and Zoning Commission.
“Ultimately, it is not too late to do the right thing,” he added. “Please do whatever you can to stop this ill-conceived, needless, bloated, pet project of the Library board and work with local community leaders to upgrade the existing Tesson Ferry library that generations of residents have known as ‘our library.'”
“Regardless of what was done, the communications with the voters were not effective,” Thomas Delaney wrote. “I don’t recall ever seeing architectural display boards or visuals of any kind showing what was planned and where it was planned for until it was a done deal.”
Larry and Karen Johnson of Concord wrote, “Surely between doing nothing and leaving the library as it is and spending some $20 million on a new one, there is some middle ground. Please help us to save our library, save some money for the taxpayers and apply some common sense to a solution to this problem.”
Some of the residents sending emails noted the upcoming fall primary and general elections for county executive and said they will remember Dooley’s actions on the library when they go to the polls.
Others recalled decades of fond memories of taking their children to the Tesson Ferry Library.
“The place has a special aura, and it breaks our hearts to think of it being abandoned for some new super-structure on an off road,” wrote Ann Logan of Green Park. “If anything needs fixing at Tesson Ferry, fix it — and let us keep our beloved library. It’s like a family home to which we come, gratefully, every week.”