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Posted on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 10:27 a.m.

Voting 'No' on library bond proposal will open doors for more involvement from community

By Kathy Griswold


Ryan J. Stanton |

When I first learned of the $65 million new downtown library bond I was concerned about the concentration of resources in just one building within our large library district and about the 30-year bond commitment. However, as I gathered information and talked to community members, it became clear that the major issue was demolishing the relatively new downtown library building.

Also, I am concerned that some local community and business leaders have lent their names and financial support to this ill-conceived proposal. They may have their hearts in the right place — we all love libraries — but the facts do not support this proposal.

In addition, I am concerned about the influence of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), from the jointly sponsored 2007 survey asking about a 400-seat auditorium, to the DDA’s overrepresentation in the planning process. The latter resulted because few community members engaged in the process.

The new downtown library campaign is long on emotion and replete with claims such as, “It will be so good for downtown Ann Arbor.” Following is information relevant to making an informed, data-driven decision. Please focus on what is best for our library patrons and the present and future taxpayers. I encourage you to add your comments to this list. -

  • It's wishful thinking — a bond request without a plan. Per the AADL website, "The Library Board has not commissioned any specific plans at this time." (2012)
  • Library services can be improved at a much lower cost without demolishing our library and building a 400-seat auditorium and other conference center elements. The AADL claims to have consulted “experts;” we need to hear from renovation and sustainability “experts” as well.
  • The library district is the same as the 125-square mile Ann Arbor Public School District (except Northfield Township). It includes the City and parts of the townships of Salem, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, Scio, Lodi, Webster and Superior. Should township taxpayers have to support downtown economic revitalization and commercial partnerships?
  • library.jpg

    Photo by Flickr user ionntag

  • The number of annual visits to the downtown library is the same as five years ago. Aren’t more resources needed for the branch libraries where visits are up?
  • The poor economy caused this project to be suspended five years ago when the Michigan unemployment rate was 6.1 percent. It's now at least 9 percent.
  • Many families in the AADL area are struggling financially. One indicator is that 24 percent of the AAPS students receive free or reduced lunch.
  • The new library proposal continues the local trend of building huge projects while basic services are cut. The cost is more than the police/courts building and the Dreiseitl sculpture combined.
  • Supporters claim the cost will be $65 million, but bonds have interest! The actual cost to taxpayers would be almost $130 million over 30 years with financing. (, AADL meeting on July 16, 2012)
  • The AAPS built and renovated the library, then transferred it to the newly created AADL entity in 1995. AAPS stipulated that the building and land could not be sold, but would revert back to AAPS. Does demolition violate the spirit of the agreement?
  • David Osler, the architect who designed the 1990’s addition and remodel, is the premiere Michigan architect credited with the restoration of the Michigan Theater. The original building is one of the great architectural designs of Alden B. Dow.
  • Demolishing a relatively new building is bad economic and environmental policy.
  • The AAPS have major initiatives to upgrade technology (voters just approved a $45 million technology bond) and to bring all buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is being done without demolishing any schools, most of which are older than the downtown library. The AADL board could do the same. What then justifies demolishing our downtown library?
  • The majority of respondents borrow DVD's, CD's and books, per the AADL 2012 survey. However, project “possibilities” include an auditorium, a catering kitchen, a cafe to be open before, during and after library hours, and a media production lab. Why?
  • Only 2 percent of the respondents of the AADL 2012 survey attend meetings held at the library; only 1 percent rent space for non-library purposes. Why is meeting space a high priority?

In summary, a NO vote provides an opportunity for more community involvement — now that the AADL has our attention with this costly, DDA-centric proposal that demolishes a beloved building and interrupts downtown library services. The library proposal is at the end of your ballot.

Kathy Griswold is treasurer of Protect Our Libraries. Learn more about the effort at



Sun, Oct 28, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

YIKES! Just finished the Voter Insert in today's paper. I can not Margaret Leary (current Chairperson of the Library Board) really said that one of her priorties if re-elected it "To build a stunning new downtown BUILDING that will draw millions of people to downtown"... Since drawing people to downtown is NOT part of the library's mission that may be why she called refered to it as a "building" and not library.

Jamie Pitts

Sun, Oct 28, 2012 : 5:34 a.m.

I completely agree, voting NO is a huge opportunity. Every reason to wreck & rebuild can be addressed with thrift and creativity. There is a tendency to throw future money at our current problems and to "do it big", and the result is a lot of ugliness and missed details. If we want a cafe for library patrons, why not build out an open plaza and playground on the ugly surface parking lot next door... and let vendors operate there?

Paul Wiener

Sat, Oct 27, 2012 : 2:54 a.m.

Thank goodness someone has the guts, brains and common sense to promote these views. I wish VOTE NO signs 50 feet high were raised on every street corner and road in town. Voting yes will amount to a fantastic waste of money, time, resources. There is absolutely no need - and no demand - for a new building, though there's a great need for rethinking the way the current one is configured and equipped.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

The future of libraries is being debated and re defined. The future of printed books, and physical CDs, DVDs is changing fast. In 10 years there may be no new books, magazines, news papers, Cds, DVDs to put in a library. We may solve the copy wright issue and digitize all existing books (re: Uof M and Google) It would be wise to maintain the status quo for 5-10 years when may understand what the library of the future looks like.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

"Supporters claim the cost will be $65 million, but bonds have interest! The actual cost to taxpayers would be almost $130 million over 30 years with financing." This argument is not well-based in fact, in two ways. First, supporters do not claim that the bonds will be interest-free, as Ms. Griswold implies. That's just insulting to the intelligence of readers. But the "actual cost" to taxpayers will surely not be $130 million (apparently with $65 million in interest), as she claims as though it were an established fact, and as trumpeted misleadingly by signs around Ann Arbor. A moment's calculator work shows that $65M in interest on $65M principal over 30 years implies an interest rate of about 5.3%. The actual rate will of course be set when the bonds are sold to the market, bus likely much lower than Ms. Griswold and her allies suggest. Interest rates are now at historic lows. A glance at the municipal bond market suggests that the interest rate would probably be about half the rate assumed by the opponents. That is consistent with what the AADL's advisers are apparently projecting, as noted in an article yesterday: "they're expecting to lock in rates in the 2 to 3 percent range." (The Troy municipal golf course is paying 2.5%, for one example.) 2.5% is less than half the inflated 5.3% number used by Ms. Griswold. She says she gets the $130M figure from a discussion at the meeting when the library board approved the bond issue proposal, as reported in the AA Chronicle. Apples and oranges. The board was right to use very conservative assumptions, to leave a large margin of safety against the risk that rates might go up before issuance of the bonds. But to determine the actual likely cost, we need to look at market costs, as the advisers apparently did: "they're expecting to lock in rates in the 2 to 3 percent range."


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

Doesn't sound like much of an assurance to me. "We expect them to be at 2-3 percent." What if they're not? Shouldn't the public be entitled to an answer such as, "It will be at x percent."

Eco Bruce

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

This writer is guilty of the Republican campaigning trick that if you repeat the lies often enough, they will be true. The joint survey a few years ago from the AADL/DDA had something like 6000 responses with overwhelmingly positive feedback about building a new underground parking structure, a new library and public space between.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Why are there no other comments or questions on AADL's "Friends of the Library" $25,000 contribution to a lobbying effort? Aren't 501c(3) organizations supposed to stay out of political issues? Are the people at "journalists" or "advocates."


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.

Thank you for writing this! two key points: •The new library proposal continues the local trend of building huge projects while basic services are cut. The cost is more than the police/courts building and the Dreiseitl sculpture combined. •Supporters claim the cost will be $65 million, but bonds have interest! The actual cost to taxpayers would be almost $130 million over 30 years with financing. (, AADL meeting on July 16, 2012)


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

If one was going to build a cafe in a library, getting a company like Starbucks to pay for it and operate it would make more sense. Or Zimmerman's. Or any of the other coffee shops.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 1:38 a.m.

If this has been "talked" about since 2008 (actually 2007), there has been ample opportunity to seriously investigate options for significantly reducing the costs of this project from $65 million, but we haven't seen the price tag drop from the amount in the Skanska quote of 2008. Instead we see a 400 seat auditorium that will serve as a performance hall, full service catering kitchen, cafe style restaurant, with no mention of seeking out other community or commercial interests to share or operate those spaces and help defray costs. Not to mention the ramifications of a taxpayer subsidized auditorium/performance hall that unfairly competes with other local venues like the Michigan Theater and the additional funding and staffing necessary for booking, operating, and maintaining the auditorium that have been overlooked. On a related note, I just learned Friends of the AADL contributed $25,000 to support campaigning for this proposal. I thought they were supposed to be a non profit charitable organization, not a political lobbying organization.


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

Thank you for telling me this. I will no longer be using the Friends book shop.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

Now this is the first Library proposal opinion that I agree with -- thank you.

glenn thompson

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

In response to one of the comments above; I did attend the presentations by the library staff. I did listen to presentations by architects, including the architect that did the Ann Arbor Municipal Center. He eloquently explained how "important" this building was for Ann Arbor and how much he wanted to help in the design. But there isn't a design. His real "support" for this building comes with a contract. Just like the other library consultants. I am not convinced a new building is either necessary or desirable. It is a drastic change from the concept of a library as a repository and distribution of knowledge to a meeting place. This is in the age of the internet when an increasing number of meetings are electronic. Transportation is expensive and less pleasant than in the previous century. It is very easy to set up a web meeting. The most popular U of M courses are web-cast. Yet, we are asked to pay additional taxes so that the library can have an auditorium. This is about the only information we have about what we get for our increased taxes. I did a cost estimate for the auditorium. I am a professional engineer and have experience in project cost estimation. My result was that the taxpayers would contribute $30,000 each and every time the auditorium was used. This calculation is very dependent on the amount of use; but what if the use increased even 10 fold? Should the taxpayers contribute $3,000 per use? We already pay high school taxes and most schools have auditoriums that are used infrequently. What about some civic efficiency of shared use? I will vote NO.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 3:05 a.m.

I like your suggestion that school auditoriums be used more frequently. School auditoriums offer at least two advantages over a downtown library auditorium. First, there are quite a number of them scattered in an orderly fashion all over the city, which means that neighborhood organizations will have one closer to them than the downtown library. Secondly, schools offer plenty of free parking.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

I'm not particularly against a new library. I use the downtown library a lot and enjoy it. I don't understand though how they can build a 14 story apartment building for 50 million but they want to spend 65 million on this library. Maybe if i knew exactly what it was going to look like and could see how the 65 million is going to be spent i could appreciate a new library better.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

There ya go throwing LOGIC into this... ;-)

Linda Peck

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

I support the thinking expressed in this opinion and will vote no on the library proposal. Thank you, Kathy Griswold.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

We don't need a new library. Vote No.

Bob W

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 10:57 a.m.

I did.

Jay Davenport

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

This is an impressive amount of nonsensical garbage. There isn't a single salient point in this argument. Kathy you have fought every change in this city for years. The downtown if finally moving in the right direction and this would be a great capstone for that area. We need nicer and more accessible public centers in the city. Plus the very purpose of libraries have changed since is time for a real center for learning and community downtown.


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Kathy makes several good points Jay. It makes me wonder if you actually read them. At any rate, you counter with something along the lines of this is the right direction and provide no substance to support such a claim. I would say your rebuttal is "an impressive, small amount of nonsensical opinion".


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

Jay, how can you say that the new library will be a capstone when nobody knows how it will look or how it will incorporate the functions mentioned? Are you saying that if a big cardboard box were thrown on the ground at Fifth and Williams and called a "library" that you would call it a "great capstone"? Have you seen a library design that nobody else has seen or do you believe that a new library can not be anything but impeccable? Your statement about libraries changing since 1995 is certainly correct. The technology advances have made visiting the library to access resources unnecessary. And the rise in use of digitized books and streaming music and videos may eventually eliminate the need for books themselves and audiovisual materials as well at public libraries. Because of this expectation, the new library advocates want to transform the library into a community center designed for meetings and other gatherings that presently occur elsewhere in Ann Arbor.

glenn thompson

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

Kathy has fought for many positive changes in our city. Like improved children safety at cross walks and ADA compliance in school access. She is a very positive influence in the community.

Kathy Griswold

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

"The downtown is finally moving in the right direction and this would be a great capstone for that area." This is not a downtown or city issue. The AADL area is the city and parts of seven townships. We have the DDA for downtown economic development. There is no need to use AADL funds to support the downtown.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

So you are willing to keep paying on the 1991 30 year bonds, throw the building away and also pay on a new 30 year bond and forgo the use of a downtown library for 2 years.

Stephen Landes

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

Well-written op-ed. What is abundantly clear is that we have more questions than answers and a request for borrowing money without a plan. I vote "NO".

Peter Baker

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

Kathy, this building proposal has been talked about since 2008. There have been numerous public forums on the issue that everybody has been able to attend and discuss. This is not some knee jerk project. I'm curious, how many of the people that say we should wait and talk about this more have attended even ONE of the public meeting the library held on this issue?


Mon, Oct 29, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.

The 2008 building proposal is off the table; this is NOT going to be the same building. Peter, you are plain wrong.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 10:16 p.m.

I have attended two informational meetings, one held at Sally Hart Petersen's home and another at Zingerman's Roadhouse. What is most evident about the effort to replace the library is that proponents arrogant and presumptive when they assume that voters do not want details about how 160,000 square feet of space, 50% larger than the present library, will be used. The 400-seat auditorium is the most desired improvement but should occupy no more than 8,000 square feet. The other improvements offered by proponents for a new library are not critical and in some cases their importance is debatable or the changes and additions can be added without major new construction. All recent high-rise construction in Ann Arbor had to be approved by the planning commission before consideration of City Council. In every case detailed building designs were presented to the public prior to or at the same time the construction plans were provided to the planning commission. Voters deserve to see how a $65 million library will look and the features that they will be using after completion.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

Two and the phone poll. The phone poll was so biased I had the poll taker crying in laughter as I pointed out the bias in the questions, his supervisor agreed. A friend of mine who is a professional in polling locally agreed with me on the bias. I was made to feel unwelcome at the meetings that I did attend because I asked hard questions that did not fit on the railroad tracks of the people running the meetings. If there were more meetings I never heard about them.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

It is the responsibility of the library board to ensure that everyone is involved in such a major project. The simple fact that community involvement in the planning process has been so small clearly indicates that there isn't any substantial perceived need. I live outside downtown and am delighted by the Pittsfield branch. It serves ALL my needs. We need more remote sites instead of a massive new central site that is too expensive, is dificult and time consuming to get to, and then you have to pay for parking.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

"Also, I am concerned that some local community and business leaders have lent their names and financial support to this ill-conceived proposal." Thanks so much for your concern, but I'm a little more concerned with the deceptive name of your group and that the big real estate owners are attached to this little project to oppose the millage. I don't even know where I stand on this issue, but I do know that deceptive little tricks like that and pretending to care about the library turns me in the opposite direction of this group. I also do not care for the paternalistic attitude expressed in the sentence above, suggesting that folks couldn't possibly have a different opinion than the author and be anything but foolish.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 2:17 a.m.

CLX - There is nothing deceptive about the "Protect Our Library" if your intention is to prevent destruction of the present library in order to build a new library. And where exactly did you find a listing of "big real estate owners" that support the organization? And what will be wrong with such an affiliation? Neither Ms. Griswold nor any of the purported real estate owners would personally benefit from defeat of the bond referendum. And by the way, Kathy Griswold is no more paternalistic than Josie Parker, Ellie Serras and Margaret Leary were at the two informative meetings that I attended.

Robot Charles

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Giving ourselves another year or so to think this through is the best option. But we should be aware that the AAPS Technology bond passed with less than 10% of all voters casting a vote.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

The question is one of stewardship of the resources given to the Library. In general, the AADL does an exceptional job serving the community and providing great value for the tax dollars we spend. But there is no clear sense that the proposed demolition and reconstruction advances that value to the system or the community. Proponents cite the high levels of use at the current downtown building, but they want to close it for 2+ years with no clear sense of where those visitors will go in the interim. Proponents say that the 20 years that have passed since the last renovation render the building obsolete. Yet, they want a 30 year bond going forward. Proponents cling to the model of a large, central library location, without looking closely at the model of decentralizing by adding other branch locations, even at a lower net cost. Proponents say the old building is not worth renovating, because it is too far into disrepair. How did that happen? Whose fault would that lack of planning or maintenance be? They offer no clear sense that the proposed replacement will be a best solution for the long term going forward. Proponents want a 33% increase in the cost of the library system but provide no clear sense that the system as a whole will serve the community 33% better.