Mayor Lynn Spruill and six Starkville aldermen decided Tuesday at a special-call work session to pursue three potential projects to ask the state to fund, narrowing down a longer list of ideas from earlier this month.
The board’s top priority will be the potential relocation of the Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library from its 60-year-old building on University Drive to the stretch of Highway 182 that will be revamped in the next few years with federal grant money. The board also will look into the options of bringing a YMCA to Starkville and extending Stark and Hospital roads to connect them to state highways on the west side of the city.
Aldermen will pursue cost estimates for all three ideas and vote on resolutions to bring the ideas to the Legislature, ideally by December so the local delegation can pre-file legislation with the requests, Spruill said. The city will most likely submit multiple requests and leave the rest to the Legislature as long as the mayor and aldermen are unanimous in their proposals, she said.
“If the Legislature is in the mood to fund a library instead of a road or a road instead of a library, we’ll be in line to do something,” Spruill told The Dispatch.
The aldermen started discussing potential projects a few weeks ago at the encouragement of State Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville), who said at the previous work session the city should make these requests every year and stay on the Legislature’s radar.
Other potential projects the board has discussed included relocating the county jail, building a parking garage downtown, improving the city’s drainage system and relocating a fire station.
Relocating the jail would have been a collaborative effort between the city and Oktibbeha County, but the library project would not necessarily be the same, Spruill said. The county contributes to the library’s funding, but the city owns the land and the building and therefore has the authority over both.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver was absent, but Spruill and the rest of the aldermen agreed that most of the ideas were good ones and would benefit the entire community.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, who proposed relocating the library, said she hopes the city settles on a project that serves an immediate need and that the city is not likely to fund on its own in the near future.
“We will eventually fund a drainage project, and we will eventually build a new fire station when the time is right for that,” she said.
The current library was built in the 1960s and was originally a courthouse. It needs a new HVAC system and more accessibility for people with disabilities, Sistrunk said.
“The building needs modernization,” Sistrunk said. “They need more meeting space that groups can take advantage of, they need teen space so that groups can be better served, they need updated technology, and (we could) perhaps add a makerspace or a workshop space.”
She suggested a partnership with the Episcopal Church to use its currently vacant Highway 182 property.
“I would not approach them with the idea of purchasing the property, not even leasing it, just doing a joint venture so they would have access to the parking,” Sistrunk said.
The rest of the aldermen agreed to pursue relocating the library even if it had not been their first choice for a project.
“I think there’s definitely a need to start having that conversation,” Ward 3 Alderman David Little said. “It might be several years out, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
The YMCA idea came from Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn’s conversations with his constituents, he said, and he will talk to Columbus Mayor Robert Smith about how the city brought in a YMCA.
The extensions of Stark and Hospital roads were Spruill’s preferred project, and Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty praised it as a “forward-thinking” idea for a part of the city that is likely to develop along Highways 182 and 25.
City Engineer Edward Kemp is a building construction science lecturer at MSU, and two years ago he assigned students to develop preliminary plans for the project, but he would have to develop them further to get a cost estimate.
Sistrunk brought up the possibility of turning the railroad that bisects Starkville from southwest to northeast into a biking and walking trail, an idea that arose about a year ago but has not developed beyond that. The railroad runs from Ackerman to West Point and has not been used in several years, and the trail would be part of the national network created by the nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Kansas City Southern, the company that owns the railroad, has not responded to the city’s requests to discuss the idea, and the transportation company Watco currently has a 15-year lease on the rail line that does not allow any changes to the property, Spruill said, so the idea of turning it into a recreational path is no longer on the table.