Friday, June 03, 2005

Hemphill-Wells; Putting a White Elephant to Work

The term white elephant comes to us from Thai history. A regional royal who honked off the king was liable to find himself receiving from the King the gift of a rare white elephant. All involved had to act as though a great favor had been conferred, but realistically, the gift could bankrupt a vulnerable lordling. The sacred creature could not be put to any useful work, but had to be maintained in pampered style at great expense lest King and country take offense with potentially fatal consequence.

The "emergency" purchase of the Hemphill-Wells Bldg. by the city under Mayor Fender has so far proved to be a white elephant. We got stuck with the cost of asbestos remediation and have, to date, received nothing of value.

This Tuesday, June 7, the City Council and County Commissioners will, as part of the regular Council meeting at the covention Center, hold a joint work session on the idea of putting the building to work. The ideas proposed center on moving the library to the HW site. One motivation is the need for expanding both city and county records retention space and giving the library room to grow.

When Council originally bought the building I suggested HW as a Library site, to have the idea summarily dismissed. HW was not originally built with that load factor in mind. This problem can be addressed in a number of ways. Spread out the stacks with reading tables between, load is reduced. Reinforce the steel on the first floor. Put most of the truly heavy stacks in the basement, essentially resting them on bedrock. On top of this, the 21st Century Library will be steadily moving away from the heavy, ink-on-dead- trees format to electronic information storage and retrieval where weight is inconsequential.

We will see a presentation of a proposal using basement and first floor of HW for library, adding support to the street level floor, with a mezzanine level built around the exterior walls, leaving a large atrium effect from that to the first floor. This would leave a large amount of space in HW for either city/county offices or some other fuction, several have been mentioned. This would leave the entire basement and half the street level of Ed Keyes building open to stack records as closely as access to them allows, load is not a problem there.

There is much left to do here, this will require some serious beating of the bushes for grants and contributions. Estimates run as high as $6-7 million cost. My opinion, this city has come up with more money for sillier ideas. I think this would fill up a great big empty in the middle of downtown. A concept drawing will be presented Tuesday, but the details are not carved in stone. The purpose of the work session is to bounce ideas back and forth.

If you would like to see our white elephant put to some good use, a show of public support would help encourage our representatives to give it real support. As always, comments and fresh ideas are welcome on this site.

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