Library officials break ground on branch at Musick, Gravois

People can watch progress of building on live webcam

By Gloria Lloyd

St. Louis County Library officials broke ground on their replacement for the Tesson Ferry Branch Library last week, saying the Grant’s View Library will usher in a new era for the county and for Tesson Ferry patrons.

“The power of reading still prevails and makes a difference in our life,” Library Board of Trustees President Lynn Beckwith said at the Sept. 25 ceremony. “This is our first groundbreaking, but it won’t be our last. And it’ll be thrilling to see this go up and how we use it.”

The current Tesson Ferry Branch, open since 1958 on Lin Ferry Drive in Green Park, will stay open during construction of its $16 million replacement across from Grant’s Farm, set to open next fall.

The newly named Grant’s View Branch at Musick and Gravois is the keystone project of three new libraries and 17 renovation projects under Proposition L, the library’s 10-year, $108 million master plan county voters approved in 2012.

Beckwith, a former University City Schools superintendent and the current president of the state-appointed Riverview Gardens Board of Education, recruited Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Jim Simpson to assist with the shovels of some of the home-schooled children who attended the groundbreaking.

After helping to break ground, Simpson noted that the Grant’s View Library will bookend one side of Musick Avenue, while Lindbergh’s new 650-student elementary school will open in August 2017 at the site of Dressel School on the other side of Musick, off Tesson Ferry Road.

Grant’s View will have space that Tesson Ferry does not since it will be a two-story library with a glass wall facing Grant’s Farm, a “dynamic” children’s area, space for teenagers, a computer lab, quiet study rooms, a café with food and seating for library patrons, an outdoor children’s area and a community garden, library Executive Director Kristen Sorth told the Call.

Christner Inc. is the architect on the project. S.M. Wilson is the library’s construction manager.

A live webcam will be set up so people can watch construction.

Roughly 50 people, mostly associated with the library or with the construction companies building Grant’s View, attended the ceremony. Only two of the five library board members attended, including Beckwith of Florissant and board Secretary Chingling Tai of Creve Coeur.

No politicians or their representatives attended the ceremony, although the library invited County Executive Charlie Dooley, the entire County Council, nearby city officials and all the state legislators from the area, said library Communications Manager Jennifer McBride.

The new library at the busy Gravois and Musick intersection has met with opposition from local officials and from members of the public who love the Tesson Ferry Branch and begged Dooley in an email campaign last spring to save it.

In a letter to the Call this summer, the state legislator for the new Grant’s View Library, Rep. Mike Leara, R-Concord, called the “ill-considered” library move a decision “based upon questionable logic” that “is neither in the best interest of the citizens who utilize the library’s many services or the community as a whole … The selection of a new building was rash and done without due consideration to the impact its location would have on those who use the library the most.”

Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, and his Republican opponent for county executive in November, Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, have both said they have problems with the lack of public input into the new library location, and Stream said if elected he will appoint a new library board.

Dooley appointed all five current members, none of whom are from south county. They serve for four-year terms.

Former library Executive Director Charles Pace, who is now executive director at the Gwinnett County Public Library near Atlanta, Ga., but oversaw the campaign for Proposition L before he left the library for unexplained reasons last year, told the Call he is happy to see that ground is breaking on the project he helped usher in and hopes that current readers at Tesson Ferry give the new library a chance.

“I think that change is not always good and it’s not always bad, but I really think in this case that once people see the final result, my hope is that they’ll be very pleased — and the south county region is going to have a very, very nice, new regional library that will serve that area for decades to come,” he said.

In September, the main organizer of the library opposition, Mehlville Fire Protection District Secretary Ed Ryan, filed a complaint with Attorney General Chris Koster against the library under the provisions of the state’s Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law. Ryan’s complaint alleges library officials failed to provide, among other public records, the site criteria they used to select the new library site. Officials said they have no list of criteria they used for the selection.

Ryan said he is dissatisfied with the “reluctant” responses he received from Sorth and the library’s attorney, Lisa Stump, who is also the attorney for Crestwood, Metro and the Rate Commission for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

Although Sorth and Stump have consistently told him they do not have any document that lists the site criteria used to select Grant’s View, a letter Sorth wrote to Green Park Mayor Bob Reinagel stated that a real-estate broker presented sites based on the library’s criteria, Ryan noted in the complaint.

Plans for $2 million in improvements to Gravois Road in front of the library have been put on a shelf for now, after the statewide transportation sales tax failed in August. State Department of Transportation officials said the improvements are needed, but they do not have the money for them.

However, the $1.2 million in improvements to county-owned Musick Road spurred by the addition of the library to the busy intersection are in the design stages and moving forward, said David Wrone, public information manager for the county Department of Highways and Traffic.

The project will not be finished until 2017, following the library’s slated fall 2015 opening. The county would not allow the library to have an entrance onto Musick without the road improvements.

Developer McBride Berra, which sold the property to the library, and the library are each contributing approximately $250,000 to the repairs, with the county paying for the other $750,000.