With one regional library now open just off Dixie Highway in Southwest Jefferson County, Mayor Greg Fischer and library officials announced this week that the next major project, the South-Central Regional Library in Okolona, is moving forward.
Construction could start within a year, according to the mayor, thanks to a $6 million grant from the Kentucky Department of Libraries & Archives. Metro Louisville already contributed $400,000 for the library’s design and Fischer has proposed a total of $6 million in city funds for the facility with another $2.5 million coming from private sources.
The library’s site is a heavily wooded parcel owned by Metro Louisville at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and McCawley Road. The parcel is across the street from the Okolona post office and the sprawling Jefferson Mall and other strip malls. Several apartment complexes and housing subdivisions are also in the area, although largely disconnected by any means other than driving.
A conceptual rendering released by the city shows a low-slung building facing Jefferson Boulevard glowing behind a screen of trees. That design will likely evolve following a series of public meetings in coming months. Given the auto-oriented nature of the area and the large footprint of a regional library, a large portion of the wooded site will require clearing, an unfortunate component of the project given Louisville’s struggle with its tree canopy and the urban heat island effect.
Down the street, the area around Jefferson Boulevard and Outer Loop is awash in surface level parking, which was designed to accommodate the traffic load of Black Friday, the year’s busiest shopping day. Most days, the parking lots at the many retail venues sits largely unused. (Including, ironically, a massive parking lot at a Planet Fitness accessible only by car a few hundred feet from the library site.) Several massive retention basins and ponds have been built in the area to help handle stormwater runoff from the vast expanse of paving.
The site is completely unwalkable and disconnected in a way that it cannot share parking facilities. Token sidewalks line this newer stretch of Jefferson Boulevard as it cuts through the woods but quickly deteriorate toward the Outer Loop. No sidewalks are present on McCawley Road nor are there pedestrian connections to the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
On the far side of Jefferson Mall to the east sits Hartstern Elementary School, which connects easily with its neighborhoods. It’s unfortunate that a non-wooded site adjacent to Hartstern, now under construction with another woefully-predictable strip mall, wasn’t able to be land-banked years ago (and which was available as recently as earlier this year), considering that location would have provided safe walking access to the library for children during or after school. (That project, called Jefferson Commons, was recently profiled by, of all sources, Chain Store Age magazine.) Jefferson Development Group had previously proposed a major lifestyle center with a walkable design including a two-story department store and public park for the site, at which point it was rezoned from residential to commercial.
Some are bound to dismiss these walkability concerns due to the area’s existing exurban and auto-oriented layout, but it’s unfortunate that a suburban town center can’t be promoted by such a major civic investment from the city and state that could promote a reduction in trips taken by car. Many elements of such a town center already exist in the immediate vicinity, although in the wrong pattern: a post office, a major library, an elementary school, and lots of retail and residential.
The architect currently assigned to the project are Minneapolis-based MSR Design, who has designed a number of other library projects including the Southwest Regional, Shawnee Branch, and the Fern Creek Branch Libraries in addition to improvements at the Downtown Main Library. Local firm JRA Architects is also working on the project. The new library building is expected to cost $14.5 million once filled with books, computers, and furniture. Construction will begin in 2016.
The public input meetings are as follows:
- Tuesday, November 18, 6:30 p.m. in the Okolona Library Meeting Room, 7709 Preston Highway
- Wednesday, December 3, 6:30 p.m. in the Okolona Library Meeting Room, 7709 Preston Highway
- Tuesday, January 27, 6:30 p.m. hosted by Councilwoman Madonna Flood at Okolona Fire Station #1, 8501 Preston Highway