opinion: $65M library bond proposal worth resulting access to information, culture it would bring
Ann Arbor is not a “make-do” kind of city. As citizens we're engaged, thoughtful, and civic-minded. By almost any standard of measurement, Ann Arbor is a leader.
For decades the Ann Arbor District Library, or AADL, has helped lead the way in making information and culture widely accessible, serving as a home for learning, and providing a diverse range of valued resources. The AADL is nationally recognized for its cutting-edge programs, award-winning initiatives and efficient delivery of services. In 2010, the AADL’s circulation (57.97 items per capita) was three times that of the public libraries in the comparable cities of Berkeley, Cali., and Madison, Wisc., according to the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
The downtown library building was designed in the 1950s. Already added to and renovated twice, the facility - which annually hosts more than 600,000 visits (about 1,700 people per day), more than 75,000 internet sessions, and over 500 events - lacks in many critical, structural ways and cannot provide the foundation to serve our community into the 21st century.
The AADL has shown exceptional fiscal stewardship by building three state-of-the-art branches - on time, within budget, and with public input. In 2007, the AADL began extensive analysis of the downtown facility and, with public discussion and objective cost modeling, determined a new building will provide the best investment of our taxpayer dollars. In July, the AADL Board unanimously voted to place a proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to ask Ann Arbor area voters to approve a $65 million bond to rebuild the downtown library.
AnnArbor.com file photo
Despite the AADL’s outstanding track record of fiscal responsibility and leadership, there may be some opposition to the proposal. I would like to address several possible assumptions and arguments:
Argument #1: The downtown library is fine just the way it is. This simply is not the case. On many levels - technology limitations, structural inefficiencies, insufficient meeting and event spaces, and inadequate bathroom facilities and disability access - the downtown library is no longer able to continue providing the high quality service its citizens expect.
Argument #2: Tearing down the building is environmentally unsound and anti-preservation. The AADL Board is committed to recycling and reusing materials from the current building while honoring its existing commitment to ecologically sound construction standards, as evidenced by the three newest AADL branches (Mallett’s Creek, Pittsfield, and Traverwood). The standard for environmental excellence does not always demand retaining an existing building and every building does not merit preservation simply because it is old. If that were the case, most of us in Ann Arbor would be living in barns and blacksmith’s shops.
Argument #3: A new downtown library will lead to the development of a downtown convention center on the adjacent parking lot. The AADL solely is focused on rebuilding its downtown library to better serve the community. Period. The plans for the facility in no way resemble the specifications of a conference center. One is categorically not equivalent to the other. Furthermore, the future of the neighboring parking site is not controlled by the AADL. That site is controlled by elected and appointed officials from the City of Ann Arbor and the Downtown Development Authority.
Argument #4: A larger library auditorium is unnecessary and would compete with other facilities already in town. Many AADL events attract an audience exceeding capacity of the current facility. This means people are sometimes turned away or events have to be hosted at off-site locations. Many leaders in our arts and cultural community and local businesses have recognized the need to increase our facility’s capacity and support rebuilding the downtown library.
Argument #5: There has already been too much construction-related disruption downtown. Investing in the future is not always convenient. The logistical challenges of building a state-of-the-art downtown library will be more than offset by the new facility’s ability to better meet the needs of the greater Ann Arbor community. The AADL is committed to minimizing the disruption by providing a temporary satellite location in the downtown area and will not lay off any staff during the construction period.
Argument #6: $65 million seems too expensive. Through extensive research by the AADL board and staff - using an apples-to-apples comparison with other public libraries recently built - the cost of $65 million ranks in the lower-middle range. This includes all the costs of the entire project from conception through completion.
Here’s the bottom line: Libraries symbolize a community’s commitment to sharing resources, increasing knowledge and investing in its own future. Thank goodness we do not live in a “make-do” community! A new downtown library will not only solve our current building’s many critical shortcomings, but will also continue to provide our community with a facility that is designed to adapt and serve all of us well into the 21st century.
For these reasons, I am voting YES on Nov. 6 for the bond proposal to build a new downtown Ann Arbor library. I encourage you to read more about it here. If you believe libraries are valuable to our community, please vote YES and continue to invest in the future of Ann Arbor.
Ellie Serras is the Chair of the Our New Downtown Library Campaign committee.