Friday, August 20, 2010

"Slow down, you move too fast..."

The City Council-appointed Capital Facilities Committee has been meeting for a year, working to determine the future of our library facility. It has now been four years since the Library Board asked the City to address the issue. There have been two major studies, funded by the City and the Friends of the Appleton Library, as well as Board recommendations. People often ask me what's happening --and the simple answer is that we're still talking about it.

The Council has endorsed the Committee's recommendation for a single library building -- no branches. By now, there is a lot of agreement that a new downtown library building would be best for Appleton, but the location and configuration are uncertain and the funding is a very big question mark. Given the many unknowns on this project, it seems like a good idea to keep discussing, learn more, see how the economy and other factors affect available funds, and defer any final decision. If a new building is by no means affordable, then we'll need to do the best remodeling and expansion job we can to address service concerns, add needed space, and increase efficiency.

There are many reasons why new would be better than remodeled, including greater impact on downtown development, best design for improved efficiency, a larger percentage of the project done with private funds raised by our Friends group, as well as more flexible space for future growth and changes. But after a year of discussion, there are unanswered questions about how we would be able to fund a new building as well as location and the architectural relationship of potential sites to other City offices. Thus the Capital Facilities Committee has gone on hiatus, but asked two task forces to do further study on building issues and finance issues. There will be no building or site selection funds in next year’s budget, and we assume it will be several years before either an expansion of the current building or a new library could be built.

A wait of a few years is not a fatal problem: we’ve always understood that this would not be a rapid decision or a quick implementation once decided. But in our current situation crowding will get worse, it will be harder to realize efficiencies, and well nigh unto impossible to realize some of the requested service improvements that would make this library better for the community.

As time goes by, with increasing use and flat or decreased staffing, efficiency will become more important. As time goes by, with continued inaction, the library will become less of a nice place to be -- not the destination this city deserves, not the community learning center it needs. Form follows function, but form can also constrain function.

So I’m a bit disappointed that things cannot move more quickly or decisively, but realistically, this is a hard time to commit to any big projects. We need to wait for an improved economy or more funding sources. I appreciate the hard work and difficult deliberations of the Capital Facilities Committee, and trust they will reconvene in the future, with better information, to continue their efforts. In the meantime, we need to keep studying issues and possibilities, while working with our Friends and others to help the community understand the situation.