Friday, November 20, 2009

10 building project misconceptions

We have a Frequently Asked Questions section on our website addressing library facility issues, but maybe we should refine it with a Frequently Observed Misconceptions section. Here's a few of the things I seem to hear or notice:

  1. It's a done deal - Hardly! If it were, I'd have a lot less work to do. As of now, the City Council's Capital Facilities Committee is reviewing the situation and considering recommendations, but the City has made no decision. The amount of future dollars committed = zero. Are there a lot of people, including the Library Board, the Mayor, and me, who think that a new building is likely the best way to go for our community? Yep. Does that constitute a decision? Nope. A decision is a long way off, and any big changes are years away.

  2. It's a lost cause - Hardly! See above. The fact is that the Mayor and Council have chosen to delay further expenses for at least a year. But committees are still working to find the best path forward and make recommendations. We know our Friends are organizing to plan for some fund-raising, to be ready when the time comes. A delay by Council and a few letters to the editor by opponents does not end the discussion.

  3. It's all about space, so the cheaper space the better - no, it's all about providing library service to the community, as effectively and efficiently as possible for current and future needs. For sure, space is a big part of that, but efficiently designed spaces -- to make the most of our staff and volunteers, better security, better use of technology, and readily accessible low maintenance public meeting spaces -- are just important as square footage. A lot of the discussion in the past year was how to meet increasing service needs without increasing staff. Better design will be a big piece of that.

  4. Branches would be better - Not quite. Branches would be cheaper to construct, offer neighborhood services and the Holy Grail known as "free parking." But branches would be more expensive over the long run, due to duplicated buildings, equipment, staff functions, collections, data services, and the new cost of transporting items among multiple locations. I love branch libraries, but they're not a cost saver: the neighborhood service aspect has to be worth the additional costs they bring. And they do nothing to fix the flaws and inefficiencies of our current building, designed decades ago for 20th century concerns.

  5. You should move into the City Center (downtown mall) -- it's empty. No, it's not. There are a few empty storefronts, but the six floors of City Center West (the Prange building) are full, and the two floors of City Center East (the Gimbel's building) are pretty full. There's not enough room in the City Center for our overall operations, and splitting off any portion, such as meeting rooms, offices or technical services would add to operating inefficiencies and cost more in the long run. Splitting off the children's area or program space would divide families. Moving the whole operation into any other building not designed as a library is almost impossible from a safety engineering point of view. Book stacks are really heavy and require special construction to support them; even if the City Center were empty, it wouldn't make a good library building.

  6. You should just add a third floor to the current building - again from an engineering point of view this is not workable. The foundation footings would not take the weight of a third floor. This building was expandable -- to a limited extent, and we're close to those limits. Without expanding our footprint, we could only add 12,000 square feet -- an expensive band-aid, and five years later we'd be having the same conversation. I'd also be concerned about staffing a building with three stories and a lower level; it sounds more inefficient than what we've got.

  7. Electronic books/Google are making libraries obsolete - community wifi or computer labs would be better - This idea is characteristic of a limited, and flawed, conception of what public libraries are, and what this library is. The Internet, Google and electronic books have changed how we work, and will continue to do so. But libraries have been around for millenia and have evolved with society. We're not a book warehouse, not a computer lab. You can look up information online, but you can't replace our essential function by sitting at home with your computer. We're a community center, a place where people gather. Specifically, we're a community learning center. Paper books are not going away any time soon. Not everyone has a computer with high-speed Internet, and not everyone is proficient in using online resources. We're one of the busiest buildings in town and getting busier. Thousands attend our programs, bring their children, meet friends, ask for help, read, discuss, and learn. Libraries build community, change lives, and encourage the heart.

  8. You shouldn't tear down the current library - some folks seem concerned we're planning this, but no-one has ever suggested tearing down this building. If we don't expand on site, and if this building were not used for other City offices, it could be sold and put back on the tax rolls.

  9. You're planning to spend $40 or $50 million, and the taxpayers can't afford it - No, we're not, and I don't know. The rough estimate to build and furnish a new building would be $33 million or to remodel, $26 million. If the library were required to build its own parking structure as integral to the building, that would be an additional cost. We can assume that private funding will be needed to provide some percentage of the total cost; nationally 25% is pretty typical. And the City cannot tax any more than they normally would to build a library (unless citizens vote to do so in a referendum), so they would have to figure out how to finance it before we go ahead.

  10. With the economy so bad, this is no time to be planning a building - On the contrary, it's a pretty good time to plan, to have the philosophical discussions about what we want and how to do it. You don't have to tell us the economy is bad; our use has grown even faster during the recession. Better times are coming, and when we can afford to go ahead, we'd like to be ready.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Appleton does not need a new library.