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Posted on Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor District Library Board to hold special meeting to approve title for $65M bond proposal

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor District Library Board is calling a special meeting on Monday to approve a title for the ballot language for a bond proposal going on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The board already voted in July to go forward with a proposal asking voters to approve $65 million to build a new downtown library on the site of the current library at Fifth Avenue and William Street.

The full board unanimously voted to accept the recommendation of its facilities committee, which had been charged with examining the issue. But due to an oversight, it didn't approve a title for the proposal.

Monday's meeting takes place at 10:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the downtown library. The exact title the board will be voting on reads: "Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Building Proposal."


A new Ann Arbor District Library building downtown will replace this one if voters approve a $65 million bond proposal.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The ballot language posted on the Washtenaw County elections website reads:

Shall the Ann Arbor District Library, formed by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed sixty-five million dollars ($65,000,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds, in one or more series, payable in not to exceed thirty (30) years from the date of issuance of such bonds, for the purpose of paying all or part of the costs of constructing, furnishing and equipping a new main library building to be located at the current site of the downtown library building, including costs related thereto?

The following information also is posted on the county's website:

The estimated millage to be levied in 2013 to pay the debt service on such bonds is 0.56 mills ($0.56 per $1,000 of taxable value) and the estimated simple average annual millage rate required to retire the bonds is 0.47 mills ($0.47 per $1,000 of taxable value). In accordance with State law, a portion of the revenue collected may be subject to capture by the City of Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Scio Township Downtown Development Authority.

The library facilities committee's report reviewed the shortcomings of the current building, first constructed in 1958 and updated twice — most recently in 1990. It found the facility has inadequate capabilities for meeting patron needs for safe, quiet reading space and has outdated heating and air conditioning systems.

It also found the facility lacks sufficient meeting space for community events and large presentations, needs capacity for additional infrastructure to meet growing computer use, does not have space for children’s programming and services that reflect the needs of contemporary families and students, and does not have an auditorium. After reviewing renovation possibilities, the committee determined that a new facility built on the site of the existing building was the most cost-effective solution.

"Our 1958 downtown library building has done its job, seeing us into the 21st century," Board Chairwoman Margaret Leary said last month. "We are envisioning today a library that will serve us for another 60 years, providing flexibility to address changing knowledge delivery tools and the need for meeting facilities to ensure all residents of the community have access to information that will power our economy into the future."

According to AADL statistics, downtown library use remains high, with an average of more than 600,000 yearly visits over the past five years, while the average yearly number of library-sponsored events at the downtown library over the past four years was 441.

Library Director Josie Parker said last month that if the proposal is approved, it will provide sufficient revenue to move key portions of the current library resources to a downtown location, provide access to the balance of the collection online through requests, build the new facility, and move into the new building.

"The current building has brought us together and delivered library services to us for 54 years," she said in a statement. "The building’s infrastructure limitations and form are constraining the delivery of what this community expects from its library. This new century with unexpected and unimagined changes, and more to come, provides us the opportunity to give forward with a new downtown library."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Sep 13, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

This is such a boondoggle! I am voting no. I go to the Library a lot to study for school and I think that the current library is fine the way it is.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

Imagining a library in 2020 or 2030 is difficult since we are ascending into the digital age. Smart phones are just becoming popular and are evolving as inexpensive and portable computers and Internet access devices. Because of the extensive information on the Internet I rarely have to go to the library for research purposes. Also I can save articles in digital form on my devices for easy access in the future. Therefore, I no longer have to spend time driving to the library, hunt for parking, and then pay for a parking fee. No longer do I have to hunt the library shelves for the books that I want nor pay for photocopying passages. Saving articles as digital files is less expensive than photocopying, does not destroy trees in the process and does not occupy space on shelves at home or in filing cabinets. The digital files are easily searchable and facilitate bookmarking. So the library of the future may not be for storing and lending paper books or even a source for audiovisual media that can be accessed more quickly "on-line", from anywhere and at one's leisure and the material saved conveniently in digital format. This evolution away from physical books and audiovisual materials may leave the library as a center for community gatherings or another "community center" which may be similar to those that exist already. As it is now, the library offers a number of meeting rooms of various capacities. These facilities do not appear to be fully utilized. If less books are stored at the library in the future, then more meeting space can be created. Also Ann Arbor has plenty of meeting space elsewhere in the city. Without being able to define the services that will be required of a library in the future, designing a facility for the future needs is impossible and the $65 million proposed structure may not be appropriate for community use five or ten or fifty years from now.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

I will vote NO! I am a frequent user of the Ann Arbor library and value the resource a great deal..... But, I do not see the need to spend millions on a new library.... I will vote NO to the millage.

Prue Rosenthal

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

I think a library should be able to provide as much education as it can - from lectures, to gaming, to books, music, theater, movie making, creative projects. We are Ann Arbor, a town that loves to read, learn, teach and much much more. Our library can help us learn more and more.

Donald Harrison

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

No one likes increasing property taxes, but a new downtown library is a project I believe is well worth the investment by our community. Although the bookstore business model is rightly in question, libraries are increasing in usage and importance. They host hundreds of events, provide spaces for meeting and reading, give access to archives and technology and tens of thousands of books, which will be the case for decades to come. The AADL is a forward-thinking organization and, in my opinion, one of the best in country. A new downtown library would not only fix many of the behind-the-scenes structural and capacity issues, but provide us with an opportunity to create a great facility for generations to come. I moved from San Francisco to Ann Arbor and love being in a community where leaders and best doesn't just apply to sports/UM. Creating a 21st century downtown library would provide long-term value for Ann Arbor citizens and its tax payers. I'm voting yes, whatever they end up calling it. If you're interested in understanding why the AADL is recommending a new building downtown, there's a comprehensive FAQ on their website:


Tue, Aug 7, 2012 : 12:38 a.m.

The problem is, Donald, what is a "21st century library"? Before the digital age I visited several different libraries regularly and often with family. Now that I am acclimated to the digital age I no longer need the library in the ways that I did in previous years. Fifty-four years ago when the AADL was constructed our present digital world could only be imagined as science fiction (as was Jules Verne's "From Earth to the Moon" (1874) until our moon shots). Most predictions for future libraries is for less physical books and audiovisual materials as well. This change in purpose will leave the library as a community gathering spot for which Ann Arbor offers plentiful competition. Ann Arbor residents will likely be facing millage votes to help service recent bond issues related to the construction of the Municipal Building and the subterranean library parking structure. A third millage to finance a unknown future for the library does not seem justified or appropriate for the circumstances.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

In regard to everyone assuming the "digital transition" making libraries obsolete, I refer you to this article in Fast Company about a Connecticut library expanding to include a MakerSpace where people can tinker and create projects. The library's website explains: "The establishment of a MakerSpace was a natural continuation of a clear interest in the Maker movement. The MakerSpace is where people can create content as well as also consume it--an incubator for ideas and entrepreneurship."


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

Seriously? Would you really go to the citizens of Ann Arbor to ask for $65M in public funds for a 'maker space'? How did *that* get to be part of a library's core mission? What fraction of citizens would ever make use of it? And why would we want the library system to go into competition with already existing efforts like this: Note that Maker Works doesn't require any public funding at all and that it is -- appropriately -- located in an inexpensive warehouse near the airport, not in a high-cost public building in the middle of downtown.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.


Dog Guy

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

A MakerSpace sounds like a fine venue for a one-man photographic show at the new library's gala opening.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

Do I value the extraordinary library system we enjoy? Yes. Do I support it? Yes (at existing tax rates, I certainly do). Do I think it is sensible to spend $65M and increase the millage rate indefinitely to fund a building which may or may not be a good long-term investment? No.


Tue, Aug 7, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Readers need to distinguish between the existing millage that supports basic library operations and the new, proposed millage that will service the bond issue for twenty years.

Peter Baker

Tue, Aug 7, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

No, Veracity, if that is your real name, I don't work for the library. And yes, the current millage already is permanent, the bond is not.


Tue, Aug 7, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Peter, Are you the library representative assigned to thwart criticisms of the proposed bond issue? You need not answer since I will not believe you if you deny it. By the way, if the millage is the only source of revenue which can be applied to servicing the bonds then the millage will have be renewed until the thirty year bond issue is finally paid off. I doubt that I will outlive the millage so it seems permanent to me.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 6:18 p.m.

From what I understand, the millage rate is set and will not change. What's being proposed is a 30 year bond, not an increase of the permanent millage.

Dog Guy

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

The Ann Arbor District Library Board is calling a special meeting on Monday to approve a title for the ballot language for a bond proposal going on the Nov. 6 ballot. How about "Stick 'em up, suckers, and give me the deed to your house."

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

In a word? NO! Why? Not because I don't like libraries, but simply because we have no comprehensive vision for the two blocks that comprise the Library area (the one it sits on and the one across the street to the west). A real vision for the area, which should be developed and articulated by the DDA, is required before we sign up to spending millions of dollars on a building. Among other things we need to know what the plan is for the top of the new parking structure. If that plan is some sort of conference center/office building it seems to me that it makes more sense to a) tear down the Library, b) use the entire footprint of the garage and Library site for a new large building, and c) include the Library in that new, larger structure. If that structure is a conference facility then the Library will not require any meeting rooms of its own (dedicated space), but can use flexible space in a conference center. Planning around a larger footprint could well include green space, fountains (not like the City Hall fiasco), and other desirable downtown amenities. That is just one person's thought about a more comprehensive plan. It seems to me that the people paid to do this kind of planning should get their act together, think creatively about the area, and come up with several suggestions for the public to discuss -- and DECIDE on.

Betsy Jackson

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

The new downtown library will help set the stage for the development of the key properties surrounding it. As a civic anchor, the new library will provide community uses, while the development of the rest of the block will (and should) be primarily commercial. In that way, the new library will not only set the standard for the block, but will provide universal access to it, in ways that commercial - and certainly not conference center - uses will not. I applaud the AADL in going forward now and not waiting who knows how long for the "real vision" to be established for the rest of the area.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

Why can't it be both? A football team can be really good with a crappy training facility, but could be even better with a great one. The library staff is doing great things IN SPITE OF their now crappy facility.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

It's one of the best in the country. Part of our vibrant downtown. Oh, wait it is not, we need a new $65 million dollar one. No, it's great.. Which is it? You can't have it both ways -most people I talk to think it is great, as in, good enough that we don't need to stick ourselves and our already inflated property values with yet another 30 year debt.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

Sure, but I'm trying to get them to move here from Portland and New York and Chicago and San Francisco, so it already seems cheap to them.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

So when you're trying to convince your friends to live here do you tell them about the very high property taxes we pay here?

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

As far as I know, there is no plan for the top of the parking garage. And the AADL has no purview over that or any other city owned lot. Not to mention, mixing a private use conference center (which I'm pretty sure is off the table now anyways) and a public use library, would just never work. It sounds to me like you are for an attractive, inviting downtown environment, and that's exactly why I support the library proposal. The Ann Arbor library is one of the best in the country (not just my opinion), and is huge factor in the quality of life of the city which drives economic growth and investment and makes it a whole lot easier for us all to convince our friends to live here.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

I encourage anyone who is interested to read the FAQ responses from the library Director on the AADL blog: The current library building has served the city well, and the only reason you may think it's fine is because of the efforts the Library staff to extend it's life for as long as possible. But the time has come, it's time for a modern library to serve a modern Ann Arbor.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

UM has renovated rather than replaced many 'non historic' buildings (the undergraduate library, for example). Or, as a point of comparison, consider Pioneer High School, which was completed in 1956 -- two years before the downtown library. Does Pioneer therefore need to be demolished and rebuilt? And you neglected the rapid transition to digital media -- there is clearly a very good chance that the need for large amounts of floor space to house shelves of books and other physical media may diminish dramatically or disappear (just as Borders disappeared). Let's see what the landscape looks like in 5 or 10 more years of the Kindle revolution before committing to such an expensive project, for a building that might be obsolete only a few years after construction.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

"'s time for a modern library to serve a modern Ann Arbor." Yep. A Modern Libray. And a modern choo-choo train station, too.

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

Really? Seems to me the University has replaced or made MASSIVE renovations to just about every building they're responsible for in the last 60 years (or are working on doing so). They do have a number of historic buildings that they spend a lot of money maintaining, but the downtown library is not historic, and the massive renovations needed just for things like bringing it up to ADA compliance would cost about as much as a new building.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

"...the only reason you may think it's fine is because of the efforts the Library staff to extend it's life for as long as possible." Great. Keep it up. In some mysterious way, the University manages to keep from having to tear down all of its pre-1958 buildings. And, as others have said, an enormous new library is simply nuts given the digital transition.

A Voice of Reason

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

You can give every citizen in Ann Arbor 6 Kindles for that amount of money. The library is fine--maybe not spiffy enough to get an award for the librarians and Board, but it is fine in a world that is going digital. Sometimes I wonder who is pushing these building agendas? Downtown is not convenient and parking and traffic is a nightmare. Focus on the customer vs. the what the board wants. I say, close the downtown library and invest in the branches!

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

The library does far more than just lend books, never mind the fact that the Ann Arbor library has the largest circulation of any comparable-sized city in the country (over 1,000,000 annual checkouts and increasing). The library also has over 500 of it's own events downtown every year, and over 360 outside group events (which has increased over 20% in the past 3 years). All of this information is available directly from the library Director's blog:


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Ugh. Don't you have to collect a certain number of petition signatures to get a bond proposal on the ballot? Or can any quasi-public entity ask for funding? Sorry I don't know but once again we are in the position of having less than ten percent of the eligible voters stick the rest of us with a 30 year tax burden. We love and use the downtown library, and there is nothing wrong with it from our perspective, since this rumor of a new building resurfaced last year I have spoken with many library employees and they agree, it seems like a drastic measure in these troubled times.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:38 p.m.

"a portion of the revenue collected may be subject to capture by the City of Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Scio Township Downtown Development Authority" Why would the AA DDA get to skim money from that? That's reason enough to vote "no" right there. Scio Twp has a DDA that can skim from this as well? And exactly where is their downtown?


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

try: boondoggle


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

We pay 1.55 mills here in Superior Township already. We will vote NO on this and urge others to do so also. When will all these different taxing entities learn that now is not the time to ask for more money?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 10:52 a.m.

"The facility...does not have space for children's programming and services that reflect the needs of contemporary families and students." My wife and I have frequently taken our children to the down town library's children's learning programs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the facilities there for the existing programs that I am aware of. The children's portion of the facility as it is, is a wonderful resource for parents and children, so what are they talking about?

Peter Baker

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Watch the Infrastructure Tour video, and you'll see what's wrong with the building: It goes well beyond not having enough room for the increasing number of visitors and events.