Oct 31 2012

Our New Downtown Library

Published by at under AnnArbor,books,education,elections

I’m really excited about the plans to build a new downtown library, and I wanted to share some of my personal thoughts about this.

The Library has developed a concrete plan for how a new library will benefit this community, arrived at through 5 years of analysis and public comment. Among the items on the capability side that are not possible in the current building:

  • an auditorium for free lectures, film, performance and discussion
  • a large quiet reading room
  • access to the local history collection (currently offsite)
  • spaces that can handle messy hands-on programs (like electronics workshops, for instance)
  • a café
  • a youth area that can simultaneously accommodate home school groups and story times (currently a daily conflict)
  • more computing resources

Besides lacking these capabilities, the current library has a number of fundamental problems – energy inefficiency, poor lighting, outdated HVAC, unbalanced ducts, elevators and roof at end of life, and a fundamental design that is not accessible to those with disabilities (the elevator opens onto a descending staircase, for example), nor is it able to support additional technology infrastructure.

Based on my experience with setting up Ignite in Ann ArborI think a small auditorium at the library would be a huge boon for the community. Spaces like that are difficult to find in town, most venues are too large and too expensive for events like Ignite – events based on a passion for knowledge, not profit. In addition to talks by community members and authors, think of the opportunities for film, theater and music performance in a free and welcoming space. The library tries to hold some events like this, such as the Story Collider, but that event has ended up offsite at Live at PJs recently because the crowd cannot fit in the basement multipurpose room, which is not a great venue for this type of free event. Overflows are often handled by simulcast in another room in the building, which is not the same experience. Some say the average event size fits in the multi-purpose room just fine – but that’s an average, there are much larger events, and the room is limiting the event sizes because it is too small!

All events at the library are free to attend, regardless of who is holding them. It is one of our few and dwindling public commons. I certainly do not agree with the comments I see that we should replace the library system with Kindles and pay through the nose for content that can be revoked at any time. That is not, and has never been, the point of the library. Our library system, AADL, has been extremely innovative with the resources they have. You can sign out framed art printselectronic music tools, and telescopes. I recently took my daughter to a 1/4 scale timber frame barn raising.

AADL extensively studied doing a renovation instead of constructing a new building. However, the above capabilities will not fit into the current footprint of the building, unless one was planning to remove books, which I do not support. Books are still very important, and I love them. The current building cannot expand its footprint and it cannot have floors added on; the2007 construction study showed that additional load is not possible. The only possibility for something like a renovation, was the 2007 option to replace the front portion of the building with a 4 story addition.  Construction cost modelling of this option showed that costs for this would rise to 90% of the cost of a new building, and provide a far inferior result.  Recycling of the current building materials will be prioritized and a new building will be much more ecologically sustainable than the current patchwork, built in three pieces over 55 years. The site cannot be sold because of the separation agreement with the Ann Arbor Public Schools in the nineties.

AADL has shown more than a decade of strong fiscal responsibility. They have built three beautiful branch libraries out of the operating millage within schedule and budget, branches which are sustainable and have low operating costs. They voluntarily reduced their operating levy to taxpayers in 2009, and they are a separate entity from the city. Interest rates and construction costs are at record lows right now – it will never be cheaper to embark on this project, which will cost $65 million funded by a 0.47-0.56 mil property tax ($47 to $56 per year for a $200k market value home – a dollar a week). In fact, interest rates for municipal bonds are comparable to the long term inflation average of 2-3%, so the financing is likely to be close to cost-free in real dollars.

I think that the AADL is the bedrock of this community’s intellectual and civic life, and I want to make sure it continues to innovate and improve into the future. It *must* thrive and grow, and you can help on Nov 6th at the bottom of the ballot by voting Yes for the new downtown library, and voting Yes for living in a town that values learning, culture, and human connections.

For additional information, see ournewlibrary.com.

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