Library: Remixed

I attended the town hall meeting last night to hear the proposals for expanding the library and to hear what people had to say.

There was some back-and-forth concerning using school libraries, and I can understand the viewpoint, as we pay large sums of money for our schools, and it seems like such a waste to have so much duplication.  I really have no opinion on the topic, though, other than that I expect that there would be problems trying to come up with the optimum mix of materials for each school library in order to serve the entire population without significant duplication.  That’s one area where a single, municipal library certainly has advantages.  The comment by the lady who home schools, though, did get me to thinking that there might be cause to force the schools to open their libraries to home schoolers, since despite not sending their children to the school have to still pay school taxes.  But that’s a rant for a different time.

The only two comments that had me gritting my teeth came from Julie Tandy and Gene Stockton.  First, Ms. Tandy kept referring to an “anti-library” campaign, which I find at best to be disingenuous.  Mr. Stockton somehow found it necessary to insert a reference to a “full build out library in Town Center” in his remarks, which was annoying, in that I’d hoped that we’d finally driven a stake into the heart of the Town Center foolishment.  Anyhow, Mr. Stockton’s remarks seemed to egg on the fellow who came later who said he’d vote against ANY proposal that wasn’t in Town Center.  So much for killing that particular beast, I guess…

Before I get into my thoughts on the current proposals, I suppose that I need to review my reasons for voting against the last proposal (although it’s been covered in detail previously):

  • Town Center: Bad parking, bad traffic logistics in general
  • Insufficient footprint space at Town Center seemed to be driving an unnecessary second floor, which increases costs and decreases staff effectiveness.  Experts suggest libraries should not be two stories until they reach 50,000 to 60,000 sq ft.
  • Critical infrastructure items (roads, fire stations, etc) not funded or committed by council at the time.
  • Concerns about the tax rate in relation to the unfunded/uncommitted items mentioned previously.

So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, some thoughts on the presentation.  I liked the general ideas that were being put forth, although I would have liked to have seen more specifics with regards to the layouts of the expansion plans.  If we can afford it, I’d like to see the full expansion to 37,500 sq. ft.  If we’re going to go through the trouble to upgrade the existing library (and it’s going to be a hassle while it’s happening), it seems best to go ahead and expand it to the maximum.  Although I might temper it a bit by holding back on the expansion of the collection and the automation until it’s required (unfortunately, though, these are still only a small part of the overall costs for the expansion). 

Given the above, it just leaves the question of what the city can afford.  Kevin Lahner gave us some information about how the library bond costs would impact the debt burden and the tax rate, and it would appear that we could absorb if it were just the library that had to be funded.  However, as I understand it, we will need one more fire station beyond the new one being planned for Hidden Lakes.  Also, the recent flooding has increased the priority on some significant infrastructure issues.  All of this will require significant expenditures both near and long term.  Which translates into tax rates and debt burdens.

Now one of the other things that bugged me about the last proposal was that I got the impression that people were selling us a bill of goods when they said the new library wouldn’t affect the tax rate.  Perhaps it wouldn’t, if you just considered the library.  But you can’t view the library in a vacuum.  And, from my point of view, it was this disingenuous spin over the tax rate that was worse that simply coming out and saying taxes would increase.  While I may be pretty wary of increasing taxes, I will at least consider it as an option if it’s necessary.  So, ultimately, I think the library supporters hurt themselves more by trying to steer around the issue than if they’d confronted it head on.

I’d like to see some detailed analysis done of the various options (infrastructure AND library options) showing the overall effect on debt burden and the tax rate.  Perhaps people would still choose an expanded library, even if it raised taxes, if they thought that the required items were being handled first.  I can’t answer 100% that I’d support library expansion right now, since I don’t have the kinds of numbers I’d like to see.  But I’d be willing to give a proposal serious attention, even if it raised taxes, provided it addressed my concerns.

Update:  I see that Jim Carson has taken a stab at estimating the city’s debt burden after needed capital improvements.  It doesn’t include the new drainage issues, nor does it include the library, but it’s still informative.  The drainage issues and library would be in addition to the numbers he shows, which is kind of scary, as he’s already showing payments on $50M in new debt.


  1. Monty Snow says:

    Aubrey, you’re an analytical and insightful kind of guy, so maybe you have an opinion about something that I can’t get anyone else to even acknowledge re the cost figures we were given on the Town Center Library v. Renovation/Expansion of the current library.

    The figures that the consultant has given us don’t tell the whole story about construction costs, because they mix together the cost of renovating the old space and adding the new.

    If you strip out the renovation and consider only the new construction, you will find that the cost (inclusive of FFE, fees, everything) of new construction is $307 per square foot.  That number does not change significantly regardless of the amount of square footage you add.

    The number we were given for the 35,000 sq. ft. (everyone keeps saying 37,500 but the glossy sent out by the city said 35,000) Town Center library was $217 per square foot, a turnkey price as well.

    Now, that’s an increase of 41.4%…in a little over one year.

    Considering that the projected cost of the ORIGINAL 52,000 sq. ft. Town Center proposal was $192 per square foot, that means the increase in cost from 1999 to 2006 was only 13%.  That’s an average 1.85% increase per year between 1999 and 2006.

    Is it that much cheaper to build in Town Center than in Johnson Park?  If so, do you have a theory as to why, considering we own the land in both locations?

    It seems to me that either the numbers we are being given now, or the numbers we were given then, do not reflect commercial reality.  I cannot believe that construction costs have jumped from a seven year average of 1.85% to 41.4% in a single year.

    Any thoughts?

  2. I’m not sure what to think of those numbers, other than to agree with you that the increase in costs seems excessive.  From what I saw, the proposal was somewhat rushed and rather speculative, so perhaps he was overly generous with his “fudge factor” on the costs.