Downtown Beaumont public library off the chopping block?

Downtown Beaumont public library off the chopping block?

If comments from the mayor and some City Council members are any indication, the downtown Beaumont public library is safe – for now, at least.

The Beaumont City Council has been considering the future of the downtown public library at 801 Pearl St. for some time, since around October 2014 when the city announced plans to construct an electronic library (e-library) adjacent to a new Best Years Senior Center. They have discussed closing it and selling, exchanging or leasing the prime downtown real estate to cut costs. The possibility was mentioned on a council agenda last month, but council comments and public outcry appear to have quashed any notion that the city might have had about getting rid of the iconic facility.

Approximately 60,000 people visited the downtown public library last year, and library supporters showed up in droves at a City Council meeting Feb. 2 after which the council was slated to discuss the library in executive session.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, councilperson at-large Gethrel “Get” Williams-Wright addressed the crowd, thanking the many citizens who reached out to her to let her know they want to keep the library open and at the same location and promising to adhere to her constituents’ wishes.

“There’s one thing I will take in executive session with me today: that is to know by the phone calls and e-mails I have received that you do not want to close your downtown library and you do not want to sell it.”

Ward 4 councilperson Robin Mouton said she had heard from numerous citizens expressing their support for the library, as did Ward 1 councilperson Claude Guidroz.

“I have never gotten more calls than I have regarding the library,” he remarked.

During citizen comments, Beaumont resident and civic leader Dora Nisby told the council she wanted to ensure the highest possible quality of life for people using the library now and for future generations.

Nisby said she and other members of the Friends of the Library, a group that raises and provides funds for library initiatives, visited a library in Houston members of the City Council had mentioned as a potential model for the possible e-library previously mentioned.

According to Nisby, the small express library was not much of a library at all, but more of a place to return books and peruse a limited selection as family members utilized the recreational park where the “library” is located. That library did not provide the services the downtown Beaumont library provides.

Nisby said the Houston model is not a good fit for Beaumont.

“Such a concept of library services might serve their population, but there is no comparison to Beaumont’s population with Houston’s population,” said Nisby. “So, the concept that they use should and would and ought to be different. We have a main library and we have branch libraries. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. As you deliberate on what concept the library services would best serve us here in Beaumont now and in future generations, please re-evaluate … and allow the professionals in the field to continue expanding and exploring opportunities for cultural growth, which involves high quality library services.”

Mayor Becky Ames said it is her responsibility and the responsibility of City Council to take actions that are in the best interests of the citizens of Beaumont.

“When we started talking about the Event Centre, our community centers and parks, the Botanical Garden and Tyrrell Park, Cattail Marsh, all those different things, the council discusses what’s important, what our citizens want, what our citizens need, what we can afford,” she asserted. “I just want to say, there’s nobody on council carrying a torch to close that downtown library, but I think we are doing our jobs when we discuss and review our buildings, our facilities, what needs to be done with them, what we could better do with them, what we could relocate. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to do it.”

Ames said over the past 10 years, downtown Beaumont has changed and grown.

“I just wanted to say a little about downtown Beaumont because we are talking about the library today. Over 10 years … we’ve made great strides in downtown Beaumont to make it a better place, from the Event Centre to the skate park to the Rotary Centennial Playground. … Thanks to Lenny Caballero and his team who put on great events at our Jefferson Theater. I came to downtown Beaumont Saturday night for an event, and there was something going on at almost every single venue. You would not recognize it.”

Toward the end of her comments regarding the library, Ames said the people have spoken, and the council has heard them.

“Downtown Beaumont has been important to me since I ran for council in 1994, and I think everyone knows that,” she stated. “So, please don’t think that just because we are talking about something, it’s going to change. However, I do appreciate all of your calls and all of your comments because that helps us make the decisions our citizens want to see, and that’s important to us.”

 

Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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