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Posted on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

Economy cannot support the costs of approving library bond proposal

By Letters to the Editor

I was on the Library Board from 2000 to 2008. The proposed replacement library is not worth the cost. Please join me in voting “no” on the library bond.

The present board wants to change the central mission of the downtown library from providing books, materials, and Internet access to providing community meeting places. This change would only benefit a fraction of the library’s patrons. Only a relative handful of meetings held at the library overflow its facilities. There is certainly no need for the 400-seat auditorium that is the centerpiece of the proposed new library.

The library needs to borrow $65 million to construct the new library and provide for temporary facilities during the two years or so that it would take to demolish the present building and construct a new one. The taxpayers would repay this amount over 30 years. The total cost to taxpayers would be about $130 million, including interest.

We should weigh this large cost against the marginal benefits the new building would bring to comparatively few people.

The Library Board wisely canceled the replacement of the downtown library in 2008 because of the bad economy. The local economy is still in bad shape. About one-quarter of the students in the Ann Arbor Public School District (essentially the same as the library district) still are entitled to free or reduced-price lunches. So the Ann Arbor area is not yet prosperous enough to pay for such an expensive new library.

Please vote “no” on Nov. 6.

David Cahill

Ann Arbor


Widow Wadman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 2:28 a.m.

From my perspective the downtown library is a good one and does not need replacing. What needs to improve is the frequency of cleaning. Over the past year of so the level of cleanliness in the library has decreased dramatically so that the womens rooms on the first and second floors are filthy. What's worse is that a while back the door leading to the first floor womens room was removed so that now everyone can hear when a woman uses the toilet. I suspect that the door was removed to discourage homeless people from disrobing and washing, but I don't think that this is a very good solution. Women simply use the second floor bathroom for that purpose. Across the street at the AATA bus station people are only allowed to occupy the washrooms for a short period of time. This keeps people from bathing in the sinks and keeps the restroom much cleaner. Also, the chairs near the library's computer workstations need to be cleaned. The homeless people who sit there for hours leave the chairs stinking. I'm reluctant to sit down lest I come away stinking as well. (I do sit down but the situation is disgusting.)


Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

What's the big deal with removing the bathroom door? Everyone knows that women don't poop. They absorb all their waste and convert it to tears which are then released on a daily basis.

Widow Wadman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

I am not interested in paying for more meeting rooms or an auditorium at the downtown library. If people want to host events that are going to draw large crowds, then they should take advantage of the many other meeting rooms and auditoriums that are available throughout Ann Arbor.

PF Anderson

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

I am deeply concerned by the opposition to this bond. It is part of my daily job to scan for emerging trends and to help plan for how their future impact may change education, libraries, and our community. We are going through a time of ever increasing change in technology, as well as major shifts in modes of education and employment. I interpret the proposed bond as being explicitly designed to respond to all three. I could go into a lot of verbiage explaining my point of view, but most of what I'd want to say has already been said in one way or another by someone else. Let me instead try to paint a scenario, a bit of a story. STORY: I was just laid off work. I have money to get by for a few months, but there aren't any jobs open in the area for the type of work I've been doing. I have kids to support, health issues in the family, and relocating is really not an option. I'm scared. Chances are nil that I'll find another before I run out of money. I'm also smart and creative. I have a couple ideas, inventions really, that I might be able to convert into economic opportunities. But to really come up with a prototype and test feasibility, I need to learn more than I know about using 3d modeling software and I need access to a 3d printer. There are some 3d printers in town, but they are fancier than I need, and most are in research labs on campus. I don't have access. There is a simpler one, and it is in a collaborative space, but you have to pay in advance to get access and you have to prove your project concept. I can't prove my concept without access, and I can't learn what I need to do to prove it without access. Catch 22. I'm stuck. Gee, I wish the public library had one of the simple versions of these printers, and a collaboration or co-working space I could use for free, and maybe a librarian I could ask questions when I'm stuck. And I wish they had a small group collaboration space for studying for the group of us taking a MOOC on the coding skills I need.

Richard Wickboldt

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

I will be voting no alongside Mr. Cahill. The 130 million is a large amount of money for a small city such as Ann Arbor. I agree this proposal we have been asked to approve is really a guise for money to spend on a event/conference hall. There is no detail design and engineering completed. Who knows what they will actually put in place once they have the blank check for $65 million. Additionally this cost/TAX is unduly burdened to property owners. What we really need on the ballot is a proposal to revamp out tax system. Seems, because I own a home. I have to pay for everything the city wants. I think maybe some sort of income tax should be in place. This would be a fare system. I have to pay a tax rate, via my home ownership, which non homeowners also voted on. Home owners UNITE vote no on any and all millages on the ballot!


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

I love the library. I visit either one of Pittsfield or Mallet at least weekly. My elementary-school-age children love the library, too. But I cannot understand the argument for this millage -- for this project -- this way. The downtown location is far from perfect, though I suspect its flaws are somewhat overstated by the pro-millage contingent. It is, however, functional. To demolish it and reconstruct a new building is wasteful -- the greenest solution is always the existing building. Were the millage to support replacing the West branch with something better, or to add another branch to the total system, thereby improving access for a larger portion of the community, I'd be on board. But the logic of claiming that the downtown location is 'essential' while planning to eliminate it from the system for at least two years is patently false. The logic of claiming that its age -- 50 years -- renders it unusable is absurd. Tear down most University buildings, and a large percentage of the homes in Ann Arbor, by that reasoning. This bond does not represent good stewardship of the system. It represents short-term gratification at a long-term cost, and makes it far more difficult to invest in the growth of the library system in the future. Therefore, I have to vote 'no'.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Dear David, please be assures that I agree wholeheartedly with you. there is nothing wrong with the existing library and I fully intend to vote NO.

Mike Allemang

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

It's absurd to say that the library's central mission will be changed to "providing community meeting places." Here's the AADL's mission statement: "The existence of the Ann Arbor District Library assures public ownership of print collections, digital resources, and gathering spaces for the citizens of the library district. We are committed to sustaining the value of public library services for the greater Ann Arbor community through the use of traditional and innovative technologies." This mission is not changing. A new building will enhance each facet of the mission. An auditorium is certainly needed, although it will not be the "centerpiece" of the new building. The current basement meeting room is inadequate, as demonstrated by numerous overflow crowds. People are turned away even though provisions are made for showing live videos on another floor of the library. Please join me in voting YES for our new downtown library.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

facet, schmacet.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

There are several meeting places available- pick a high school auditorium. Wasteful to construct something that is already available. There is no plan B here- very irresponsible to not investigate the cost of modifying what is already there. If you don't like the library, move.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

Please join me in voting no. We do not need to spend money for a community meeting place. We already have Liberty Plaza. We do not need an auditorium.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 8:41 p.m.

I do value the contribution that the Library makes in providing for public meetings. I've attended many in the basement (never turned away, though) and also enjoyed the use of the community meeting room on the 3rd floor. It has occurred to me through this debate that the luxurious space on the 4th floor could be well-configured for a better public meeting space. It was formerly the AAPS board room and the space is very inefficiently used. An architect could redesign it to a high-capacity meeting room that would also serve as a board room for AADL and other meetings.

Joan Lowenstein

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

The idea that the Library is secretly planning a conference center is absurd. The AADL already hosts events almost every day of the month -- they just don't have room to accommodate all the people who want to attend. A library is an information center and the days when people only went to "collections" to seek information have long past.


Sun, Nov 4, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

Correct. It is the DDA that is leading the secret meetings. Thanks, Joan.

Mona Norton

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

I live in Belleville , my home is paid for ..And I am tired of all the crap they put on these voting pallets getting passed .. It sure can't be home owners that are passing all these increases ... My home has lost around 100,000 in value but my taxes that I have to pay sure don't reflect that .. The people here voted for and passed a stupid library increase for a new library here last year .. Nothing like voting your way right out of your home due to taxes .. When are people ever going to smarten up is the question ..


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

No different than the direction of our country. The masses do not have a good grasp for finances and debt. They only want things - and free ones from the government. I am voting no as we do not need a new building. We need capable people willing to properly manage the library structure we already have.

Leah Gunn

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Those one quarter of students mentioned in Mr. Cahill's opinion letter are precisely the ones who need the internet access at the library. Many low income families cannot afford to connect to the internet, and also are not able to purchase books. The library system serves these people, as well as all of the rest of us. It is a matter of social equity. The economy is recovering, interest rates on bonds are low, construction costs will never be lower, and the unemployment rate in the Ann Arbor metro area is 5%. The time is now, and it makes no sense to vote no.

Widow Wadman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

I am a regular user of the downtown library hence I see the other patrons. The main users of the library are adults. Preschool children through high school students use the library but they are not its main constituents. I suspect that is because families with children can't afford to live near downtown.... There are many computer workstations at the library, and there are usually a few workstations free.... I do not buy the argument that children would be denied computer access or educational opportunities if this library is not replaced.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Ms. Gunn - I think you will find that the 1/4 of the students tends to live on the outer edges of the library district and seldom come into the city center. They use the branches, not the downtown library. Social equity would be to invest in expanding the branches, and do a simple renovation only on the downtown building. Closing the downtown library for two full years does not help students. The fact that the branches now have the vast majority of the visits to the system and many are crowded after school, indicates that if you want social equity, that you put the money into the branches, because that is where the lower income people live. Downtown is too expensive for low income families to live.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

Well I guess those students won't need to have computers at school that they can access EVERY DAY if there are new ones at the library. Will all those families want to go to your new auditorium? NO. The new library is not about access to books and computers, they already have that. You make NO sense.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

Ms. Gunn, we do not need to fund a new library in order to provide books and Internet access to low-income families. You didn't quite think this one through, did you?

Joel A. Levitt

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

It would be useful to know where those "one quarter of students mentioned" live. My guess is that they are served by the branches not by the central library.


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Those families who cannot afford computers in their homes and cannot afford to buy books are the very same families who cannot afford the increased property taxes and increased rents that would be caused by approval of the proposed Library bond. The bond, of course, will be used to destroy the existing downtown library and to build a new library on the same site. Approval of the bond will not serve to expand collections or improve traditional services like borrowing books. kb3

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

I ran for the Library Board in 2010 on a platform of opposing a new library building. (I lost, but by a close margin.) I agree with the points made here. First, that this plan indicates a programming change. It appears that the new library would be aimed in part at replacing the conference center that failed to pass public muster. Why add an auditorium to a library? I've said all along that the library should remain a place that emphasizes collections and making them available to the public. I applaud the AADL's expansion of public access to archived material and to expansion of collections to date. But I don't believe that this structure as vaguely described is necessary to those functions. Second, that the cost is out of bounds and unaffordable. We are being asked to provide funding for a building that hasn't been designed. How can the budget have been determined? Could it, perhaps, be inflated in order to accommodate all possible contingencies? The public is not being asked to endorse a particular design, but rather simply to provide a very large pot of money. Many of us now voting will be dead before it is paid off and we will have left this debt to a new generation under uncertain circumstances. In the last 30-year period we fought 3 wars and had at least 2 recessions and one near-depression. Income has been stagnant for most of the population over that time. What does the future hold that we should encumber the young with this debt? None of this is to say that I don't support the importance of the library or the many wonderful things it brings to the community. Yes, keep and cherish the library. No on this bond.


Fri, Nov 2, 2012 : 12:41 p.m.

So Mr. Baker - We build a new 20 year building (that is how long the last one lasted). We put in the 400 seat auditorium to deal with the 11 meetings per year which have an overflow of the 135 seat meeting room. That means we spend $130 million (with bond issue costs, and interest according the minutes of the library board). That means we spent over $500,000 a meeting to build this auditorium per meeting. It would be way cheaper to rent the Michigan theater - way, way cheaper. Absurd? yes, but based on the way you and the other paid spokespeople are pitching this, that is the only conclusion I can come to. OBTW - thank you for being up front when I asked weeks ago about your involvement. It is nice to finally know the truth.


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

Two comments is "carpet-bombing"? And has he or the other guy said anything that wasn't true? That's all that really matters. It's not like they're celebrities that were paid for an endorsement. I'm pretty sure the design directors at all the other political campaigns draw a salary too.


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

DonBee and Tom Whittaker -- plus 10. Thank you for shedding light on where dollars are currently being spent. PS - if ( and when ) this fails, are there any watchdogs on the board ensuring our Good Building is receiving appropriate maintenance?

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 8:13 p.m.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Harrison's deluge of comments on any thread related to the library has simply become SPAM at this point. I'm surprised that is tolerating this commercial use of its public comment section, since both men are paid media consultants for the library bond proponent group. (You can be assured that if the bond passes, other local groups and political candidates will adopt this tactic of hiring professionals to comment--maybe they already have.) But really guys, there is no need to jump on and comment in response to every single statement made by bond opponents. What is harming the bond proponent's cause more than anything is the complete lack of specifics. Few people are willing to just sit back and write a blank check--especially considering all the expensive, hair-brained projects and schemes cooked up recently by those running the City and County. Carpet-bombing the comment sections of the local online media with condescending replies to almost every single statement made by the opposition is off-putting. I truly believe you are doing your client more harm than good. No amount of arrogance or monotonous repetition of the same vague arguments can overcome the insufficient detail in the library's $65 - $130 million ask.

Peter Baker

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

DonBee, the library does not have anything approaching the 300-seat raked auditorium of Livonia, or any of the other auditoriums (in addition to meeting rooms) in the libraries mentioned, or many others across the country.


Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

Mr. Baker - There are meeting rooms in the library that are equal to or better than the facilities you mention. Since you have been paid $30,000 to advocate for the new building, I understand your attempting to mitigate these arguments.

Peter Baker

Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

Midland, Livonia, Jackson, Southfield, Adrian, Hart, and many many many other libraries have auditoriums. Please stop trying to equate a small auditorium to a convention center.