Friday, July 11, 2008

Library Building: "Doing nothing is not an option"

The Post Crescent has a fairly good article on the Library Board Building & Equipment Committee's deliberations on our facility study. The only reason the article is fairly good rather than very good is the difficulty of conveying complex topics in relatively few column inches.

Thus, some people reading the article make the jump that we are committed to having a new building at a specific price tag. There is, as yet, no building proposal, decision or plan. Some people are talking about where to put the hypothetical building, and while it's good to dream, it's also premature.

Our study says we need more and better-designed space, for current and future library needs, ideally a new building downtown. The committee endorsed the study's recommendations, and recommended we budget for architectural program design next year. Program design should further clarify issues, determining in more detail how much space we should have and how that space can be configured to get the most bang for the buck.

In fact, the committee discussed at some length why specific plans and associated price tags might be premature. But people want to have some idea of what we're talking about so we talk about specifics even when they're hypothetical. If we build at 138,000 square feet and if the cost is $300 per square foot, the cost would be in the area of $41 million, but the "if" statements represent many very many untested assumptions. Despite that, speculative numbers make headlines.

A new building downtown might be ideal, but what if we do something less than ideal? What would that cost? What are the trade-offs? It depends on what we decide, and we haven't even committed, as a community, to making those decisions.

What we do know is that the needs are real, and it's not just library staff saying so. Our current space is too small for our volume of use, and ill-designed for current types of use, let alone projected use. In the words of a Library Board member, "Doing nothing is not an option for us."

Our best course can only be determined in a lengthy process involving not just the Library Board, but our elected officials. This is a decision for the whole community -- let's keep talking! Read the report -- share your comments.