Officials fast-track construction of new Tesson Ferry Library

McBride says 2015 opening unrelated to opposition of new library site

This rendering provided by the St. Louis County Library shows the cafe/atrium of the new \$16 million Tesson Ferry Library that will be constructed at Gravois and Musick roads in Affton, across from Grants Farm. Construction of the new library could start as soon as Aug. 18.

This rendering provided by the St. Louis County Library shows the cafe/atrium of the new \$16 million Tesson Ferry Library that will be constructed at Gravois and Musick roads in Affton, across from Grant’s Farm. Construction of the new library could start as soon as Aug. 18.

By Gloria Lloyd

St. Louis County Library officials are fast-tracking their time line for opening the new Tesson Ferry Library and hope to have the new $16 million building open and operating by fall 2015.

Under the library’s current construction time line, presented to the Library Board of Trustees in June, officials are sending the project out this week to construction companies for bids, after the architect completed final designs July 1.

The winning bidder could be approved at the board’s August meeting after bids close July 28, and construction could start as soon as Aug. 18, said Todd Hornburg, vice president of Fenton-based Landmark Contract Management. The company is managing the library’s $108 million facilities master plan, under which the library is replacing the Tesson Ferry, Meramec Valley and Lewis and Clark libraries and renovating the 18 other libraries in the county library system.

“We would immediately start construction, assuming we receive your approval,” Hornburg told the board.

That means Tesson Ferry Library operations could switch to the new library at Gravois and Musick roads in Affton, across from Grant’s Farm, in little more than a year. The decision to fast-track the library has nothing to do with the protests of local officials and hundreds of residents who oppose the new library location, library Communications Manager Jennifer McBride said.

“Obviously, we want it to be open as soon as possible — even though the current Tesson Ferry Branch is going to remain open (during construction), we don’t want there to be a big disruption of service,” she said. “Of course, this is subject to change, depending on how the construction moves along.”

Local officials who formed the Save Tesson Ferry Library Committee organized an email campaign to County Executive Charlie Dooley last spring in which hundreds of south county residents urged Dooley to either keep Tesson Ferry in the current building, which opened in 1958, or build a new library on the same site.

Although the library first filed for rezoning of the Gravois-Musick site last summer, residents got a late start mounting an opposition to it, over what committee organizer and Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Secretary Ed Ryan contends is library officials’ lack of transparency about its decisions surrounding the move. Many documents were not available to the public until after the property purchase closed Feb. 7, but Ryan said it was still difficult to get documentation about the move from the current Tesson Ferry Branch, on Lin Ferry Drive in Green Park.

“They made it very difficult and very expensive (to get public records),” Ryan told the Call. “I never did receive votes on who voted to move the property, who voted to buy the property. They said it was in the minutes — I requested the minutes, but it wasn’t in there. It was like pulling teeth, very secretive.”

Although Green Park officials and hundreds of south county residents spoke out against the library’s move, the reaction from other local officials was more mixed.

Dooley, who appoints the five-member library board that oversees the separate taxing district, said voters made the decision to move the library when they approved the $108 million plan in 2012, but he promised to review the decision. Dooley spokeswoman Pat Washington said the review is finished, but the Call did not receive a copy before it went to press.

Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said he takes no position on the library since the feedback he has received from residents is split down the middle on the issue.

In a letter to the Call, Rep. Mike Leara, R-Concord, wrote, “The recent ill-considered decision to move the Tesson Ferry Branch County Library, which was based upon questionable logic, is neither in the best interest of the citizens who utilize the library’s many services or the community as a whole … Taxpayers are ill-served when not given the opportunity to express their concerns about potentially expensive public projects.”

Although Dooley cited sinkholes found at the current library as a reason it must move, two studies conducted by the library found sinkholes only on adjoining property, including in the middle of South Lindbergh Boulevard — not at the library itself.

Despite that, at some point an architect made the recommendation to the Board of Trustees that it move the library to a new site, advice the board followed.

At the same time that Dooley promised to veto a construction diversity bill that sets goals of 20 percent minorities and 5 percent women for county construction contracts, Hornburg told the library board that construction manager S.M. Wilson has pledged construction of the new Tesson Ferry Library will be diverse, with goals of 15-percent minority and 5-percent women participation on the project. S.M. Wilson has a full-time diversity coordinator that it can use for the project.

An outreach meeting to minorities and women is slated for 10 a.m. Friday, July 11 at Library Headquarters in Frontenac to encourage them to bid on the Tesson Ferry project, Hornburg noted.

Executive Director Kristen Sorth told the board that library staffers have split the renovation projects into phases.

Renovations to the Cliff Cave Branch County Library in Oakville will happen during the second half of the first phase of renovation, in fall 2015.

Library officials have declined to reveal their plans for the current Tesson Ferry Branch, but Sorth has previously said that the library has received interest from many potential buyers of the property.