By James Beaty
A proposal to construct a new McAlester Public Library building took a huge leap forward when the McAlester Regional Health Center Authority voted to donate land to the Friends of the Library.
The proposal from the Friends of the Library of McAlester, Inc. calls for a new library building to be constructed on land between the Pittsburg County Heath Department and the Wellness Center.
It would cover 30,000 square feet and include a lecture auditorium to accommodate up to 75 seats “for continuing medical and other education,” according to the proposal. Plans also call for it to include “needed teleconferencing technologies” to support distance learning, training and education.
A new library building is far from a done deal at this point, since the Friends of the Library will still have raise money for the building’s construction and meet a number of construction-related challenges.
MRHC Authority members heard the proposal from Bob Basolo, representing the Friends of the Library, during the hospital board’s Wednesday meeting on the MRHC Campus.
Board members voted unanimously to commit to donate the property to the Friends of the Library and to authorize hospital Chief Executive Officer David Keith to “negotiate and finalize the agreement” to include the designation of the property, along with terms and conditions.
Before the MRHC Authority members voted, Keith told them he personally supports the measure.
“It’s time the hospital gave back to the community,” Keith said. “This is one way we can give back to the community.”
Basolo told the hospital board that the property where the Friends of the Library would like to have the new building constructed is along College Avenue, just down from Bass Boulevard.
“Boyd Bass and the First National Bank agreed to give us four lots that front College,” Basolo said. However, the proposed new library “wouldn’t fit” on that land alone, according to Basolo.
“We needed help from the hospital on the south side,” he said.
Even with the land donations, there are other considerations.
“The site has some challenges,” Basolo acknowledged, including “a 10-foot drop,” or slope that would require an estimated 10,000 cubic yards of fill material before any building could be constructed.
“Also, there’s a ‘branch’ that runs right down the middle,” he said.
At one point he and Keith had talked about moving the proposed building site east and closing 15th Street, Basolo said. However, that would bring it up to Public Service Company of Oklahoma poles and lines, he said.
Basolo said the preferred spot had been selected for a reason.
“It’s an ideal place for a library because of the visibility,” he said.
Basolo said City Manager Pete Stasiak suggested moving the proposed building site away from a closed city street, although there were no objections to a parking lot.
“According to Pete, the city doesn’t mind having concrete on an abandoned street. They just don’t want walls and buildings,” Basolo said.
Stasiak, who was present at the board meeting, affirmed Basolo had correctly stated the city’s position.
“That’s basically it,” Basolo said, telling the board members the matter was now in their hands.
Keith told the board that through an agreement with the Friends of the Library, classroom space could be provided to be utilized through the hospital’s new medical training program.
“They will provide classroom structure,” he said.
Keith also spoke about how a new library building near the campus could be utilized by the hospital’s new medical training program, which is in cooperation with Oklahoma State University.
“I want something close to the campus for residencies and medical staff,” Keith said, referring to the hospital campus.
“It’s more about having access to a classroom than books on the shelf,” he said.
He referred to the situation as an opportunity for the hospital board to help the Friends of the Library.
“If we can give them the opportunity to build a modern facility, we should,” Keith said.
MRHC Trustee Board member Weldon Smith, who is also the Ward 1 city councilor, asked about what would happen with water drainage at the proposed site.
“You’re going to have to account for the flow of water,” Basolo agreed, with one possibility including the placing of a culvert.
Another issue concerned the land reverting back to the hospital if the proposed new library building does not become a reality.
Since Keith would have authority to negotiate the terms on behalf of the hospital, he suggested giving the Friends of the Library 24 months to come up with the funding and another 36 months for construction.
Smith asked about the cost of the proposed project.
“You can put in any number you want,” Basolo said. He noted the preliminary plans had been created by the late J.T. Collier, who had also been an MRHC board member.
“I think J.T. thought about $4 million,” Collier said.
Smith wondered if the details would be fleshed out before the board voted and he would prefer to have everything “ nailed down” before a vote was taken.
Basolo had noted that it should be easier to raise money if a building site has been acquired.
“The site is key,” he said.
After the MRHC Trust Authority voted to pass the measure, Keith had a parting comment to Basolo, regarding the two years the Friends of the Library will have to come up with the funding before the land reverts back to the hospital.
“It gives 24 months to make it or break it,” Keith said.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.
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