The city of Lexington is considering buying the Central Library on East Main Street for a new city hall, city and library officials said Tuesday.
City government, which currently operates out of the former Lafayette Hotel building on Main Street, has been looking for a new city hall on and off for decades. The Main Street library is in the same block as the city’s police station and other offices. It is adjacent to the Phoenix building on Vine Street that also houses hundreds of city employees.
“The city and the library are exploring the possibility of the city purchasing the Central Library building for a new city hall,” said Ann Hammond, executive director of the Lexington Public Library and Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer, in a joint statement.
“The city has advertised for a consultant to study whether the library building would be a good fit for city hall. This process is just beginning and there is a lot of work to do before any decisions can be made.”
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city of Lexington, said the city just issued the request for proposals for the consultant. A final report is supposed to be delivered to the Urban County Council on Nov. 29, according to a timeline released by the city. The consultant will look at the library building’s current condition, assess the space available and make some preliminary design proposals, according to the request for proposal released by the city.
Hammond said Tuesday the library is not abandoning downtown and will find a new location if the city ultimately opts to buy the more than 100,000-square-foot building. It still will have a Central Library location. Before moving to the current five-story building on Main Street in 1989, the library was in a building in Gratz Park, which is now the Carnegie Center for Literary and Learning.
“While a downtown Central Library is extremely important, library services have changed considerably since the current building was constructed in 1989. The Main Street library does not meet the library’s current and projected service needs for the community,” the joint statement said.
Hammond said in an interview Tuesday the downtown location is popular but its design is inflexible and fails to meet the changing and increasing digital needs of Lexington library users.
“We definitely want to stay downtown,” Hammond said. “It’s the design of the current building. We need something a little more flexible.”
The city hired a firm in 2015 to determine possible locations for a new city hall, including CentrePointe, a long-stalled downtown development. The block of Main Street where the library is located was named as a potential location for a new city hall in that study. But the library itself was not named as a potential site.
The Jones Lang LaSalle report, which was released in February, is just the latest in a string of consultants the city has hired to find it a new location. The report was budgeted to cost $200,000 but several Urban County Council members questioned if the city got what it paid for after the report was issued. Straub said the city ultimately only paid the Jones group $98,000.
A final cost for the latest consultant’s report has not yet been determined.
“At the time (of the Jones group report) we didn’t know the library was interested in moving,” Straub said. “We are interested in it because of its location relative to other buildings owned by city.”
The city's main operations are spread among several downtown buildings, including the former Lafayette Hotel on Main Street. Those buildings could cost the city millions of dollars in potential upkeep over the next several years. The Lafayette opened in 1918. The main building is not very user friendly and can be difficult to navigate, particularly for people in wheelchairs.