PHOTO: An aerial shot of the Northfield Workforce Development Center Building. / Photo courtesy of the city of Spring Hill
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
In a letter drafted on Wednesday and sent to Spring Hill aldermen and city staff, the Friends of the Spring Hill Library (FOL) – a nonprofit organization that supports the library with fundraising and volunteer work – have called for more transparency on the city’s plans to move its government operations to the Northfield Building. The FOL’s concerns raised in the letter also mirror those expressed Monday night by three of the city’s newly elected aldermen; John Canepari, Hazel Nieves and Dan Allen.
Purchased by the city in December of 2017 for $8.18 million, the Northfield Building is the former headquarters of Saturn, an automotive brand of General Motors. The city also closed on a $13.18 million loan that same month, which was needed to finance the building along with related renovations.
A major concern raised by Canepari, Nieves and Allen Monday night was that the city did not have a full understanding of the current state of the building, with Allen bringing into question whether the purchase was overpriced, considering the building was purchased by a separate entity – the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance – as recent as 2014 using a $5 million grant.
In the letter drafted by the FOL, library staff and supporters write that sometime last year, library staff was told by the city that the decision to move the library, City Hall and other government operations to the Northfield Building had already been decided, and that they “must accept that decision.” The letter also writes that the FOL were under the impression that Canepari, Nieves and Allen were against an expansion of the library altogether, but that Monday’s meeting showed differently.
“If information shared by Alderman Allen is accurate and the numbers just don’t jive, we need more transparency and a much better understanding of what the definitive plan is for Northfield,” reads the letter. “What the risks are if tenants leave, what the long-term plan is for replacing the HVAC on the 2nd floor to make it useable space, what safety measures will be in place for both patrons and staff leaving a remote area at night, examination of the liability issues related to egress from the Northfield property, what negotiations have/are taking place with GM on the exit options from the rear of the property and, finally, whether there are viable options for the library to remain close to what was apparently planned as the city center on Town Center Parkway.”
Concerns were also exacerbated by the recent creation of a new Town Center Task Force, which would study the possibilities and feasibility of developing a town center and identify potential locations. The concerns raised by this new task force lie in what might happen if a town center is developed away from the city library – something FOL Treasurer Lisa Arnwine could be devastating.
“People stop at the library because it’s ‘on the way’ – Northfield is not ever going to be ‘on the way,’ you have to make a specific trip in order to go to Northfield,” Arnwine said. “The less reason there is to go there, the less traffic that there is going there, the less usage the library will have, and that’s a concern that the library staff has.”
Going back to Monday’s meeting, Arnwine said once she heard the concerns raised by Canepari, Nieves and Allen, she immediately recognized them as identical to concerns raised by the FOL over a year ago to the city.
“The concerns that were expressed by Aldermen Canepari, Nieves and Allen were exactly the same issues that the Friends of the Library had raised with the Library Board of Trustees and city officials at least a year and a half ago,” Arnwine said. “At that meeting, the Friends of the Library were essentially told the decision has been reached to go to Northfield, and sort of take it or leave it. Being given that choice, we chose to support the move, because we know that we needed more space.”
Another major concern expressed by the FOL is that of the safety of its patrons. The section of U.S. 31 that runs in front of the Northfield Building shows a high frequency of vehicle accidents when compared to the rest of the city, including a fatality in in 2016.
“[Another] possibility is that during story time you may have 100 moms in cars, and a mom is sitting at the intersection with screaming children, thinking ‘dear god, let me get home,’ misjudge the speed with which a car is coming, and they’re hit broadside and a child dies,” Arnwine said. “Now, I don’t know that that’s going to happen, dear god I hope it doesn’t happen, but the traffic that is coming onto 31 off of Saturn Parkway is going fast.”
Ultimately, the letter FOL has sent to city leaders has asked for more transparency and feasibility on the city’s plans to move to the Northfield Building. Speaking as a citizen, Arnwine said that ideally, the city would temporarily halt its plans until a clearer understanding on the move is established, and properly communicated to the community.
“Some of the comments that were made by Alderman Allen in terms of the numbers – saying that projected revenues are less than expected, and projected expenses are greater than projected – if those numbers are in fact accurate, as a citizen I would hope that we would put a halt on everything and really dig in and understand where our liability is on that building,” Arnwine said.
Despite the concerns, Arnwine said that if the city ultimately decides to move forward with the plans, unchanged, that she would support the new library full-heartedly, as to her, the importance of a library to any city cannot be overstated.
“It is a human connection for a lot of our patrons, particularly those who are older and retired, or people who live alone,” Arnwine said. “It’s obviously perfect for introducing children to reading, and we unfortunately see all too often what the lack of education and the lack of imagination does to our community. The library is the place to start that.”