Seven months after Dayton Public Schools and the Dayton Metro Library agreed on a letter of intent, plans to construct a $10 million library branch on the grounds of Belmont High School have stalled and might collapse.
The plan, discussed in multiple school board executive sessions, calls for the library to purchase 2.75 acres of school land at the intersection of Wayne and Watervliet, currently serving as a single softball diamond.
The library would construct its 24,000 square-foot building and a parking lot there, and would pay to create a new softball diamond behind the school. Like other library construction in the county, this would be paid via the levy that voters passed in 2012.
Asked whether the sticking points were little details, or big issues that could stop the project altogether, school board President Robert Walker said, “Both, to be quite honest,” adding that board members had some “critical differences.”
“I think there are some divergent views that we’re still trying to work through to see if we can’t work with the library to make sure there’s a quality site that will accommodate the community,” Walker said Thursday.
Asked if that meant pushing for a different site, Walker said that was one possibility.
Tim Kambitsch, executive director of the Dayton Metro Library, said that the Belmont site is clearly the best location for the project, which would replace smaller branches on Wyoming Street and Watervliet Avenue. He said there’s no real backup site.
School board member Sheila Taylor argued that other sites that would work, including one behind Belmont, although she acknowledged that site has no frontage on a major street.
Said Kambitsch, “I am confident that the Dayton Public Schools board is going to do the right thing and approve the sale of the land to the library.”
He said a price for the land had been agreed on, and much of the dispute was over the softball field – both that it would be inaccessible for awhile, plus questions on whether the new field would be of sufficient quality right away.
“When we think about the loss of the use of the ballfield over the summer to allow this project to move as quickly as we’d like it to, I think most people would look at that and say that’s a good trade-off.”
Taylor, who cast the only “no” vote back in July, said she still opposes the project in its current form. She said the field is just one of several issues, including some that she said are important to school officials and surrounding residents.
Taylor said library construction would take down more trees and add to traffic congestion in an area already full of young drivers. She said the library would take away needed line of sight from the school to the bus stop on the corner, which had been a trouble spot for fights. And Taylor said the school district shouldn’t give up athletic land that could be valuable if Belmont decides to expand its programs.
She asked why taxpayers would want a second building with community rooms and updated technology equipment on the site when Belmont High School already makes that available to students and residents at some after-school times.
“I think it needs to go someplace else,” Taylor said. “I love libraries and use them all the time. … I think libraries are one of the backbones of the nation, and the freedom of America, and of opportunity. However, I just don’t think that that’s the best place for it.”
As dozens of students talked and waited for rides outside Belmont on Thursday afternoon, multiple students said they would like to have a library next to the school. Brey’ele Hobson said it would set Belmont apart and give her a good place to do homework. Cameron Rothwell said it would be nice to have a place to go after school.
“I would have to walk a good distance from where I live to the other library, but if it was right outside where my school was, I’d definitely go there,” Rothwell said.
Kambitsch said he’s seen that success at other libraries built near schools, pointing to a recent day when 90 high school students were using the Vandalia branch after school.
Walker, the school board president, said it would be “unfortunate” for the community if the project isn’t finalized.
“It’s certainly a strong message about our collaboration within the city of Dayton and providing resources for families and children,” Walker said. “On the other hand, there are persons who are feeling the aesthetics of the neighborhood are important as well.”
Kambitsch said the library would like to start site work as soon as school gets out and begin building construction in the fall. But Taylor says it’s not the right site.
“High school students don’t choose a high school because it’s next to a library for the most part. They pick a high school based on sports opportunities and the academic opportunities,” Taylor said. “The big sell (of the library) is all the tech, but we have that at Belmont. We don’t have the books, but we have the study space. Most of what the library is offering, Belmont offers.”