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June set for opening of the Westside Library in Pearland

By Mark A. Quick / Houston Chronicle

By early summer, an empty shell in the H-E-B shopping center at Business Center and Memorial Hermann drives could be home to the Westside Library in Pearland.

The Pearland City Council awarded a $375,000 construction contract for the library in December. Officials believe construction will be complete by April and opening day could be in late May or early June.

"We have seen a high level of interest and excitement in the community," said Brazoria County assistant library director Lisa Loranc.

"That part of Pearland has been waiting patiently for a library for a long time. Yesterday would not have been soon enough," Loranc said.

The push for a new library on Pearland's west side was a grassroots effort initiated more than two years ago. Pearland city manager Bill Eisen said it was the group - Friends of Pearland Westside Library - and other interested individuals who were the impetus for the project. "They (the Friends) put forward a good case. It motivated the city and county to move forward," he said.

The lump-sum contract was awarded to Construction Masters, low bidder at the Nov. 29 bid opening. Eisen said the contract covers build out of the 6,000-square-foot-lease space soon to be the library's home. The city will incur another $40,500 for design, in addition to the $375,000 for construction.

Build out will include the usual elements of constructing internal walls, installing air-conditioning and heating infrastructure, floor coverings, electrical work and plumbing. Lease negotiations were carried out by city staff.

Eisen said the city expects to spend about $730,000 total for the new facility after the initial construction. The additional costs will include items such as shelving and furniture and the opening day book collection.

Brazoria County Commissioners committed in 2012 to cover the costs for computer systems, network and Wi-Fi infrastructure, computers for patrons and staff, future lease payments and staff salaries.

Loranc said library officials are interviewing candidates and assembling the staff for the library, which is expected to consist of four full-time employees and three part-time.

"We at the city are very much excited about this project. It's been in the works for a number of years. The citizens demonstrated a real need and desire to acquire this library," Eisen said.

Brazoria County library director Catherine Threadgill said in September, "We've been run over by a freight train ever since the temporary branch opened. We can't keep up with the volume."

The temporary, 80-square-foot location at 2150 County Place Parkway, Threadgill said, checked out 44,000 books last year. By comparison, the current full-service library located at 3522 Liberty Drive checked out 460,374 volumes this year and houses 123,397 volumes.

Loranc said about half the books needed for the opening day book supply have been purchased. Library officials are being measured in their acquisitions taking into account the anticipated needs of the library based on factors such as neighborhood demographics and making sure the collection is timely.

The opening day collection will include a mix of materials for kids, teens and adults with a range of fiction to non-fiction works.

Threadgill said previously that people often want to donate books when they hear of a new library opening but experience has taught library professionals that it's more efficient for library staff to build the collection independently.

For one, books purchased at bookstores are not necessarily fit for library use. Libraries need books with the special library binding so they can handle the stress of reading and re-reading.

Financial gifts to groups such as the Friends, Threadgill said, will help with chores such as stocking craft supplies, scissors and glue sticks for the children's area. Donations may also provide additional computers, as needed, for example.

Loranc said the Friends had already done a couple of fundraiser via local restaurants and their moral support is a big plus.

Residents wishing to support the fundraising efforts may visit the group's website at pearlandwestsidelibraryfriends.org.