There is no doubt that the Sedalia Public Library building is one of the most striking architectural structures in the city. Dedicated in 1901, it was the first Carnegie library in the state of Missouri and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to sedalialibrary.com: “The historic Sedalia Public Library building is in the Greek Revival style of architecture constructed of ornate white terra cotta stone with a limestone foundation. Four massive limestone columns support the front porch at the entrance to the library. ... As visitors enter Sedalia Public Library, they journey back in time to the turn of the century.”
As reported by the Democrat’s Emily Jarrett, in July, a 3-inch-deep crack was discovered along the library’s southwest corner and west wall, which brought about closure of the west wing, which includes the computer room, large print area, children’s area and the entire basement. After further investigation, the entire building was closed as foundation problems and “unstable brick” were reported. Thanks to the generosity of State Fair Community College, the library has been able to relocate a portion of its collection to the former McLaughlin Brothers Furniture building downtown, which is now owned by the college. Repair cost estimates continue to climb as more problems are discovered with the 111-year-old building. The city and library board now are looking at a price tag close to $1 million since, as Jarrett wrote this week, the current $750,000 estimate does not include plastering and final repair work on the interior. This week also brought news that the columns have cracked and will need work. Each week, it seems, additional issues that will require attention are revealed.
While we share many residents’ affinity for the library’s classic, ornate structure, we question whether it makes sense to sink so much money into a building that likely will continue to need costly work going forward. What also should be considered is whether the library’s old-school functionality is meeting the information-access needs of current residents. The library’s terra cotta exterior is being removed and the pieces numbered so they can be reassembled – we believe they should be used on a new, state-of-the-art structure rather than the decaying hulk that is currently shored up and fenced off. A new building offers the opportunity to embrace 21st century technology and user needs while still providing traditional services. And by incorporating some of the current library’s architectural and interior design features, a new structure could pay homage to the building that has served this community well for more than a century but whose time, it seems, has come.
Some may find it blasphemous to even consider razing a century-old structure that was seeded with money from one of our nation’s great philanthropists. Alan Lukens, structural engineer with Klinger Associates, told City Manager Gary Edwards that no foundation issues or cracks have been found on the east side. But sentimentality aside, this building has serious issues on the southwest side and with its pillars, and we can only expect that the east side will need work eventually. Before sinking public dollars into repairs, the city and library board should create a functionality “wish list” and solicit estimates for a new library. While the city wants to get accurate repair estimates as soon as possible to include in the bond it will seek for the Washington Avenue bridge work, we should ensure that such dollars are going to be spent to the greatest advantage for the community.