AADL's track record makes resident comfortable supporting $65M bond proposal
One measure of the vitality of a community is the investment it makes in its civic and cultural assets. It’s one thing to raise money to bring world-class symphonies and theater companies to town; it’s quite another to make the financial commitment to provide world-class service, day in and day out, to our residents. We are very good at accomplishing the former and it’s time (again) to demonstrate our willingness to invest in the civic future of Ann Arbor by passing the bond for a new downtown library.
I am a construction professional with 30 years of experience in both new construction and renovation. I have no professional skin in the game when it comes to the proposed new library; my firm will not be bidding on work that comes from the passage of the bond. But I was recently afforded the opportunity to take the “back of the house” tour of the Ann Arbor District Library and I can tell you, from my professional experience, that the existing library cannot deliver what the community will demand of it in the coming years.
The downtown facility is already at capacity and beyond. With more than 600,000 visits last year, the place is intensely active. Special events exceed capacity in the multi-purpose room and patrons, expecting personal interaction with an author or artist or speaker, are relegated to a video feed in the boardroom. Kids’ programming is tripping over itself in a space that cannot accommodate the demand. And people looking for quiet space to study or discuss are finding those spaces rationed.
And that’s just the space and programming side. Behind the walls, the infrastructure is running beyond capacity. Cabling systems for Internet connectivity are at their maximum. This, at exactly the same time as demand has grown to the point where Internet sessions are limited to 30 minutes per patron at peak times. The heating and cooling system can’t be correctly balanced and is out of date, and the building is very energy-inefficient.
If you have special needs, the downtown library is particularly hard put to help you. With only one handicapped-accessible restroom (located in the already bustling children’s room), library patrons with existing challenges are further inconvenienced. If you are vision impaired and wish to access the excellent collection from the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, you must be escorted to the basement by library personnel. In short, the current building cannot advance the values of equal and independent access that our community supports.
Certainly, some of the current problems can be solved through a renovation process. But the larger structural limitations due to the previous additions, low ceilings, close support column spacing, and lack of potential to add additional floors can’t be overcome by remodeling. The floor plan simply can’t be properly improved to meet the needs of current and future generations of users. Further, a detailed comparative construction cost analysis comparing a new versus a remodeled building concluded that there would be only a 10 percent savings. This, while requiring the same displacement of services while the project is underway, and culminating in a building with most of the current limitations. Given the AADL’s track record of building three state-of-the-art, energy-efficient branches, I believe them when they say that they are committed to recycling and reusing as much of the existing buildings as possible as they design a new facility that meets present and future demand in an environmentally sustainable way. As a construction professional I know that this is the best possible time to finance the construction of a new library. Bond interest rates are very, very low, and construction costs very, very competitive. To put more money into first aid for the existing buildings only postpones the inevitable replacement cost to a more expensive future.
All this - and the AADL’s track record as a good fiscal steward of our tax dollars - tells me that the time is right to let them chart the future for our downtown library. These are the reasons I will be voting yes on Nov. 6. I hope you’ll join me in investing in the future for one of Ann Arbor’s truly great civic institutions.
Bill Kinley Phoenix Contractors, Inc.