South side library plan advances

PARKERSBURG – The City of Parkersburg will lease space to the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library to expand its south side facility.

Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve a resolution authorizing a 50-year lease agreement between the city and the Library Board of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library. The lease would allow the library system use of Blizzard Park, which is on a hill behind Fire Station 5, which is near the existing library.

In September library officials announced plans to construct a new building near the existing 1713 Blizzard Drive branch to better serve south Parkersburg.

Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg-Wood County Public Library, said the lease agreement was a first step in the process of expanding the library’s offerings to the south side community.

“It is something I have been working on with (Parkersburg Development Director) Ann Conageski,” Raitz said. “We’ve been working on getting that property lined up. My understanding is this is the first of two resolutions that will need to be passed.”

Raitz said officials are in contract negotiations with an architectural firm out of Cleveland which will partner with local firm Pickering and Associates to design the new library facility.

“Hopefully we will look at being under construction for the new library in the spring,” Raitz said.

Two council members, John Kelly and Roger Brown, voted against the resolution after expressing concerns over a land swap which would be part of the lease agreement.

Conageski said Blizzard Park was part of a land and water conservation grant approved in the 1980s, and because of that federal grant the land cannot be used for anything other than outdoor recreation.

In order to gain use of those 4.8 acres, Conageski said the city must offer up an equal amount of vacant outdoor land that is not already designated as a park.

Conageski said the city will seek to exchange five acres of land near the Fifth Street Bridge and the city’s skate park for the Blizzard Park property. That parcel of land is being looked at by local businessman Norm Payne, who along with a group of investors, wants to turn the area into an outdoor concert park.

Payne has presented his idea several times to the city’s Public Works Committee and is waiting for the committee to send the plan on to full council for approval.

Kelly said he feared Tuesday’s decision to designate that parcel of land as part of the federal grant might compromise Payne’s plan for the concert park, as alcohol sales would not be allowed under the city’s parks ordinance.

City attorney Joe Santer said the city could place a waiver within a lease agreement allowing for alcohol sales should council move forward with Payne’s plan. Kelly, however, was not convinced.

“If that (land swap) is in there, I cannot support this at this time,” he said.

In other business, council approved the first reading of an ordinance reclassifying the city’s finance director position. The new classification would make the base pay for the position $55,000-$60,000.

Kelly unsuccessfully attempted to add an amendment which would not allow the finance director position to benefit from longevity pay should an existing employee take the job. Santer warned the amendment likely would not hold up in court since it would be denying a benefit to a single employee.

Only Kelly and Brown voted to approve the amendment which was defeated, and only Brown voted against a motion to approve the first reading of the original ordinance. The reclassification will come up for a second and final reading in two weeks.