Library board prepares to consider next steps and future of downtown Ann Arbor library in 2013
As leaders of the Ann Arbor District Library look ahead to the new year, they're still reflecting on the recent defeat of their proposal for a new downtown library.
Several questions remain after voters shot down the AADL's request for approval of $65 million in bonds to build a new state-of-art facility at the corner of Fifth Avenue and William Street.
Will the library board go back to voters with a revised plan in 2013? Will the AADL instead move forward with renovations to the existing downtown library?
Or will it be a year of reflection and little action?
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Leary said that includes taking a closer look at the condition of all of the AADL's buildings, any decisions the city makes about downtown properties it owns, the impact of changes in taxation such as the repeal of the state's personal property tax, the economy and more.
Leary's term as president ends this month and the board's bylaws prevent her from being president for a third consecutive year. The board will elect new officers at a meeting in January.
Otherwise, the board still includes the same seven members who unanimously decided to put the question of a new library to voters earlier this year.
Board member Nancy Kaplan said she doesn't think the board will try going back to voters or push ahead with any major renovations to the downtown library in 2013.
She predicts the board instead will have a thoughtful discussion about the message voters sent when they turned down the library proposal by a 55-45 margin.
"I think there's a lot for us to consider," she said. "We did not have a Plan B when we went to the voters, and so now we need to reconsider, and there's a lot going on with the DDA."
The Downtown Development Authority is getting ready to present a plan to the City Council for redeveloping five city-owned properties downtown. That includes the public parking lot next door to the library on Fifth Avenue, and the public parking lot directly across the street.
The library's facilities committee has met since the defeat of the bond proposal, but the board as a whole hasn't had any discussions about how to move forward yet.
The board canceled its December meeting for lack of business.
'Part of the solution'
Kathy Griswold, who headed the campaign to defeat the library proposal, said members of her group want to stay involved in the discussion as library officials consider their next steps.
"We had a lot of energy and passion during the campaign, and a significant number of people who worked on the campaign really wanted to move forward and become part of the solution," she said. "We started meeting the week after the election, and a lot of work is being done."
Griswold's group is beginning to take a closer look at the stated arguments in favor of a new library and trying to find ways to solve the underlying problems without a new building.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"We feel strongly the problem is not a lack of meeting space," she said. "It's the lack of being able to easily identify and rent space, so we're researching what space is available in the community."
Griswold said her group feels like the focus has been more on structure and not services, so it's going to try to identify what services are needed and alternative ways to meet those needs.
The group also is planning to do a benchmark analysis comparing Ann Arbor's library system to those in other peer communities.
Griswold said her group will be looking into equity issues as well, finding out ways to get more library services in low-income areas. And she's hoping the library board will agree to create a citizens advisory committee to help provide community guidance to the board.
"We also want to address the need for a homeless day shelter so that it's not something provided by the library," Griswold said. "There is a large homeless population that uses the computer equipment up on the second floor of the library and the question is: Should scarce library dollars be used to provide a day shelter for the homeless population?"
Griswold filed paperwork with the county this month to create a new political action committee using the same name as her ballot question committee: Protect Our Libraries.
"I guess we want to get out in front of another library bond, and at the same time we want to be part of the solution," she said. "We don't want to just speak against things that are proposed by the library. We want to be in the planning stage for how to improve our libraries."
According to post-election finance reports, Protect Our Libraries raised a total of $35,807 in cash and in-kind contributions during its campaign to defeat the library proposal. That came on top of $2,963 that local resident Doug Jewett put into his own campaign to defeat the proposal. Advertising agency McCullagh Creative contributed nearly $30,000 worth of in-kind ad services to Protect Our Libraries.
The Our New Downtown Library campaign in favor of a new library reported $81,227 in cash and in-kind donations in its post-election report.
All options on the table
Library officials argue the defeat of the bond proposal in the Nov. 6 election doesn't change the fact that the existing library, which dates back to the 1950s and was last renovated in the early 1990s, is outdated and isn't designed to meet the needs of today's patrons.
But there's no point in taking the same $65 million proposal back to voters, so the board will have to think deeply about its next steps, said AADL Board Treasurer Barbara Murphy.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"I think what 2013 will bring is a lot of analysis, another look at our current building and our branch buildings, a look at the entire way the library serves the community, and a look at what the community wants from the library," Murphy said, adding all options, including renovation, are on the table.
Local voters approved the establishment of the AADL in 1994, at the same time approving a 2-mill levy in perpetuity to fund library operations. Due to Headlee limitations, the library is allowed to levy up to 1.92 mills right now, and it's levying only 1.55 mills at the moment.
The library board theoretically could increase the levy to 1.92 mills without a vote of the people, and that could raise about $1.6 million in new annual revenue. Murphy said nothing like that has been decided, but that might be one of many options library officials discuss in 2013.
As for the library's ability to undertake any kind of renovation project, Murphy pointed out the AADL has no debt. And as of November, it had an unrestricted cash balance of nearly $15 million.
"We work within our budget," Murphy said.
Griswold said her group wouldn't be opposed to the library increasing its operating millage to the approved level and raising an extra $1.6 million a year.
"We are not anti-tax," she said. "We want excellent library services."
Griswold said her group includes about 11 members and they're looking forward to cooperating with library leaders in 2013. They plan to hold a community forum in January.
"There's no hostility," she said. "We understand where they were coming from and why they went forward with the bond proposal. We just don't think it's the right solution."
The library board was criticized during the campaign for not having a more detailed plan — not even a single drawing — showing what a new downtown library could look like. While some believe having detailed plans and renderings could help sway more voters, board members maintain it doesn't make sense to spend that kind of money upfront before the project has been approved.
A number of voters also indicated they had concerns about losing access to their downtown library for two years during construction, suggesting it might help if library officials communicated a solid plan for keeping a downtown branch open in temporarily rented space.
While it remains uncertain if the library board will try going back to voters, it's apparent board members still believe a new downtown library is needed.
"We do need an auditorium. We need a better reading room. We need much better infrastructure for current technology and whatever technology might be coming in the future," Murphy said.
"This library — the layout of it and the way the space is used — is very dated, not convenient, not friendly for people with disabilities, and not up-to-date for the way libraries are being used now," she said. "It's time for an improvement, time for an investment, and time to move forward."
Murphy said the library's architect previously determined a complete renovation of the downtown library would cost only 10 percent less than a new building. She said the board hasn't looked at what it might cost to do renovations piece by piece, and maybe that's worth studying.
Asked about last month's defeat of the library proposal, Murphy replied: "We were not aware there would be so much misinformation put out there, and we weren't prepared to confront that.
"A lot of people who were upset about our plans didn't come to any of the public meetings. We're looking forward to the new year and talking more with the public and with each other."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.