With a new master plan from ArchiTexas, a Dallas-based architecture firm, the Waxahachie Library Board has requested help from the city in making major additions to Nicholas P. Sims Library.

The library, which was built in 1905 for $24,980, has 22,055 square feet. New additions would expand the library to 39,990 square feet.

The original building was built with a lyceum upstairs that seats 277 people.

Craig Melde with ArchiTexas said the lyceum has been well preserved and could become a major draw for the community in the future.

But despite its preservation, the lyceum lacks life safety and accessibility compliance with only one set of stairs leading to the upstairs auditorium.

Since its original construction, the library was expanded with an east wing in 1958, a west wing in 1965 and a children’s wing in 1990.

“The exterior of the building has not been well-maintained,” Melde said. “There’s inadequate roof and site drainage and an insufficient HVAC system.”

To discuss the possible additions, the board held a joint meeting with the city council Tuesday night at the library.

“We want to get the council’s input from the very beginning,” city attorney and library board president Steve Chapman said. “The city has been levying a tax and furnishing support for many years. The city also furnishes the water to the library. But over the years things change and I don’t know that we’re looking for a complete merger rather than simply more cooperation in the future.”

The board has worked with ArchiTexas to develop the expansion, which is estimated to cost between $7.67 million and $8 million.

“We realize this is just an estimate,” Melde said. “What we really need to do is get the drawings done and get a better estimate.”

The difference in price is built around how soon the council expects to begin construction.

According to Melde the city can expect roughly a 1/2 percent increase in construction costs each month the city waits to start construction.

“We’ve been working for many months to develop a master plan for the Sims Library,” Melde said. “And as we’ve worked we’ve seen a number of needs that should be addressed.”

Some of the needs Melde and his team saw include a separated and expanded children’s and teen’s area in the library, increased conference area, increased computer lab and a more efficient check-out area and process.

Melde said the group would also like to reclaim the historical first floor for a reading room and larger front desk as well as expanding the library’s processing area with elevator access, expanded reference, fiction and non-fiction areas, improved circulation and updates to the lyceum with proper accessibility.

To complement the building, ArchiTexas is proposing new construction for an expansion of both the east and west wing as well as a conference area connecting both the east and west wings, towards the rear of the property, near Jefferson Street.

The conference area would be secure and accessible from Jefferson Street, allowing use of the 1,200 square foot room after regular library hours.

The master plan also calls for 17 new parking spaces on the property, along with 26 new parking spaces to be constructed at A&F Thompson Memorial Park across Jefferson.

This would provide additional parking for the library as well as the two-acre park.

“We wanted to be sure we maximized parking without disturbing the historic front,” Melde said.

“The library board would like to raise all the funds but we don’t think that’s possible,” Chapman said. “The city could use CO (certificates of obligation) or bonds to do the construction and, of course, there will be more employees and added maintenance costs with the expansion.”

With certificates of obligation, the city would not be required to call for an election to fund the library expansion but a petition of at least 5 percent of those who voted in the last election could force an election on the issue.

City finance director Carl Wessels estimates that an $8 million bond issue could secure with a 5 percent interest rate over 20 years.

The debt issue would require 3.2 cents from the city’s property tax rate.

As part of the city’s charter, the council may designate up to 10 cents of the property tax rate towards the library. Currently, the city dedicates 6.3 cents.

With the expansion, Wessels also estimates the city would need to increase its yearly contribution by an additional 1.7 cents for operations and maintenance of the library, bringing the city’s total tax rate dedication to 9.5 cents.

“The entire 3.2 cents may not be required as part of a tax rate increase,” Wessels said. “We have other debt dropping off soon that may allow us to issue the debt without increasing the tax rate.”

The council seemed in favor of the expansion Tuesday night.

“I’d like to see (City Manager) Paul Stevens take a look at this and see what we’d have to do to make this happen,” council member Buck Jordan said.

Stevens said with debt rolling off over the next few years there are a number of opportunities and high-dollar projects the city is considering, including the senior center, a downtown parking garage, the city’s quiet zone study, downtown train depot renovation as well as roadway improvements.

“Much of that depends on what else we do,” Stevens said. “We can put together a pretty big bond package and we can do this now or we can do it over the next few years.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Ron Wilkinson said he puts a major importance in improving the city’s library system.

“The free public school system and the public library system have made America what it is today,” Wilkinson said. “As a city council the schools are out of our hands but this project is not and I believe it’s important that we have a viable library system. We should exercise foresight and look towards the future. It would take $8 to $9 million to start over again and build just a small library. But instead we can spend that money and get a 40,000-square-foot complex. When companies see that the city has this kind of commitment to learning it can only help bring the high-tech companies we’d like to see. I’m excited about this concept and I think it’s a win-win. It’s good for business and good for the city.”

Melde said he estimates design and architecture planning will take six to eight months and construction will take between 14 to 16 months - mainly to keep the library operating while construction is still going on.

“Our meeting with the council and library board was very encouraging,” Melde said. “They were all very excited about the project and I felt they were going to make some determinations during the council’s retreat to see how quickly they could fund this.”

Stevens said the city staff was preparing a complete list of future city projects to present the council with at its winter retreat.

“I think the proposal they put together was really great and respects the history of the building,” Stevens said. “From a city standpoint we will be able to issue some debt in the future and so we’ll put together a list of possible projects for the council and show them how much debt we can issue without raising the tax rate. One thing that was mentioned during the meeting was that it might be possible to start the engineering of the project and then issue debt after we have a more specific cost estimate. We’re going to take a look at what projects need to be done and then let the council decide what their priorities are.”

The council’s winter retreat is Feb. 8 at the Waxahachie Civic Center.

E-mail Jonathan at j.blundell@thedailylight.com