Space. Space. And more space.

That’s what the next Stephenville public library needs - and what the current city library doesn’t have.

That’s also the consensus of city and county residents who attended Thursday’s Stephenville City Council-called public meeting aimed at determining whether a new library should be built and, if so, what should be included in it.

Residents made it clear the current 4,577-square-foot library at 174 N. Columbia St. is antiquated with too little space and too few books and other necessities inside and too few parking spaces outside.

Erath County resident Joe Sawyer said he hopes the city will look far into future when planning for a new library.

“We’re talking about the year 2040 - not the year 2007,” Sawyer said.

Instead of opening a 12,000-square-foot library now, Sawyer said, the city should look into a 25,000 or 30,000 or 50,000-square-foot facility that will last until the year 2040 or 2050.

“If they don’t build a public library, they’re going to have to build a bigger jail, and they’re already talking about building a bigger jail,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said his mother recently moved to Stephenville and she loves to go to the library, but that Stephenville’s library isn’t easily accessible for someone elderly like her.

“She likes to use the library, but she can’t get in it very easily,” Sawyer said.

Others on hand shared Sawyer’s concern about accessibility, including a mother of two who talked of the danger of going down the stairs at the current library to get to the children’s area.

Emily McLemore talked of the importance of a new library facility - one that doesn’t have dangerous stairs and that can be used without someone getting “sick from mold.”

McLemore also said she favors one with many, many more parking spaces.

“You can’t ask us to use a library where there is no place to park,” McLemore said.

She said she believes a quality public library is so needed that, “I’m telling you I don’t care how much it costs.”

A couple of others on hand, however, expressed concern about the potential cost of such a facility.

“I keep thinking about the cost of all this,” Elizabeth Zickefoose said. “… I won’t have to be paying it, but you all will.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Rusty Jergins told the more than 30 residents (not including council members and city staff) who attended Thursday’s meeting that the council wanted to hear the thoughts of those who attended.

Jergins said the council hasn’t established how much such a facility would cost or exactly where it should be located.

Bill Hidell, of the city-hired architecture firm of Hidell & Associates, listened to the comments from the public and took notes.

Jergins said Hidell’s firm will use those and other comments in determining how to best proceed before coming back with recommendations for the city council.

During a PowerPoint presentation before the meeting was opened to questions from the public, Hidell said the current library is “stagnant” and cannot grow because of space limitations.

He said “total holdings” in the library were 48,548 in 2005 and 48,861 in 2006 and that “total visits” to the library were 40,718 in 2005 and 41,716 in 2006.

In other cities, Hidell said, libraries have proven successful that have areas set aside for computer terminals, meeting and children’s spaces, a “Teen Zone,” special collections, and “special spaces,” including for food, among other things.

Sawyer said he loved the idea of having a “social area” where coffee and soft drinks could be served.

Local businessman Joe Altebaumer said he would like to see a library that had more selection for kids.

“Readers are leaders,” Altebaumer said, also endorsing the idea of the next library having meeting rooms and newer books so that research can be done.

Eloise Horak said the next library needs to have “much more space for our genealogy department.”

“We don’t have any space to really hold genealogy workshops,” Horak said.

City Administrator Mark Kaiser has said he expects the process of evaluating and planning for the possibility of new facilities to take about a year.

If a bond issue will be needed to pay for the improvements, the measure likely would be sent to voters in May 2008, Kaiser has said.

DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at doug.myers@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.