Thursday, May 29, 2008

Report on the second town hall meeting

By now, you've probably read the articles in the paper or seen the TV news about last night's meeting on our facility. The press coverage I've seen was accurate, if necessarily incomplete.

The evening was worthwhile. We had about 50 people, three TV stations plus the Post-Crescent & WHBY. So lots of buzz: mostly positive about the importance of the library & space needs, but also some healthy skepticism about costs. Attendees included two Library Board members, one Foundation Board member, four members of the City Council, two members of the School Board, at least two members of the County Board, the FOAL Board president, and quite a few staff. There were a number of movers and shakers, and some just there as interested library users.

Consultants from Durrant and Himmel & Wilson reviewed the process and their findings. As discussed in the previous meeting (reported here), they got input from nearly 1,000 people including surveys and in-depth interviews, and they got further feedback after the meeting. They developed some priority lists:

Community Top 5:
  • Downtown Library
  • No Branch Library
  • More Comfortable Environment
  • More Computers
  • Better Teen Area
Consultants’ Top 6:
  • Strong Downtown Library
  • No Branch Library
  • Community Gathering Space
  • Enhance Customer Experience
  • Streamline Operations
  • Technology Center
These are darn near identical and pretty close to my own list. So there's a lot of agreement about needs and priorities. As to what to do to fulfill the needs, the presentation included three alternatives. Space analysis by the consultants says that right now we have 88,000 sq. ft. and should have 118,000 for current needs. In 20 years, we should have 138,000. Interestingly, the 1994 library building study recommended about 118,000 square feet then -- if we had followed that advice we wouldn't be facing this problem today or would only be in the early stages of concern.

No matter what else we do, we should probably start moving to RFID security sooner rather than later -- it will take a few years to convert and we should have it done prior to any facility change. Radio Frequency ID has the potential to seriously improve security for library materials and save tremendous amounts of labor, but it comes with a steep price tag, in excess of a half million dollars and involving both equipment and space. We could start now, but we should finish by putting the equipment into the right kind of space.

The three alternatives:
  1. A minimal addition of 12,000 sq. ft. to the 2d floor east wing -- was clearly insufficient, but I guess it had to be publicly identified as an alternative in order to be considered and seen as insufficient.
  2. Expanding the current building on-site, was highly developed and included eliminating the Transit Center -- obviously we need to have some serious talks with Transit staff soon. I need to learn more -- it may be possible to expand on-site without relocating the Transit Center. In any event the needs of Valley Transit have to be taken into account.
  3. A new building, was a bit vague in terms of location and vision, and did not include much that would have fired people up. If there are advantages to designing new versus remodeling -- and I believe there are, I didn't hear them. Cost is an obvious, and possibly fatal, disadvantage to this alternative.
But I'm not completely sure the group had a level playing field to evaluate alternatives, partly because the consultants may have felt less free to discuss options involving any privately owned land versus City property. We need to look at the map with them, Valley Transit and downtown planners.

There was a lot of discussion and feedback, mostly useful and productive. It's a start -- and we're working on next steps. We'll have the slide show from the presentation posted soon.


loninappleton said...

For me the idea of adaptive reuse of the downtown mall clicked right
away. I've been vocal about the incorporation of amenities like drive up and coffee bars. But a careful look at the mall space shows that a number of these considerations are already in place at the downtown mall:

1.) There is a clear entrance for the public on college avenue at a
terminated vista from Oneida street. In the rear is an underpass where material pickup could be made without disrupting foot traffic at the main entrance in the front. And of course there are refreshment stands in place and with the proper facilities for those users.

2.) The atrium space may be considered problematic as 'too big' for a library central space. This has to be argued out. With no elevations given for the style 2 or style 3 proposal we don't know how large an entrance would be made for those proposals.

But adaptive reuse on a perhaps narrower time frame and at _the_
central location in town should be given consideration as a cost
measure and as a civic enhancement. In this scenario the transit
center remains where it is, and the old library building is also reused.

The walk-in access from a ramp for staff and patrons is also available.

My thanks to the gentleman who attended the Wednesday meeting for bringing this up.

Making the mall into a complete core services area from Appleton to
Morrison streets should be given serious consideration.

Ideally this topic will go to the press and public discussion so that
more options can be brought forward.

Terry Dawson said...

Lon -

I agree that we need to look at additional options -- but beware the seductiveness of easy, simple answers to complex problems. We did take a look at the mall back in 94/95 prior to building the last library addition. At the time, the mall was a whole lot emptier than it is now. Currently it's fairly full -- Hoffman just had the Governor here two weeks ago to help celebrate the extensive remodeling work they've done. The Children's Museum has since doubled in size and the six floors of the old Prange building are getting crowded!

The main issue, though, then as now, is the engineering suitability of the structure for a library. We haven't spent the bucks to do a specific study, but libraries have to be built to fairly exacting standards -- bookstacks are HEAVY. Unless a building is built from scratch to be a library, you almost have to replace much of its structural support (the skeleton) and footings to make it suitable. This is generally cost-prohibitive, though not impossible. If that's what looks good, we should evaluate it further. We don't want to overlook a good opportunity. But there are other ideas as well.

loninappleton said...

That clarification is helpful.

Plus I was not aware until talking to my neighbor that the City Center ownership is in private hands.

Tanya said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information with the community!! So many of us are worried about what could happen to our library- but we have committements which prevented us from attending the meeting. Thank you and thanks for posting it to the Voice Blogsite!

Anonymous said...

I am personally strongly opposed to any organization that is over 100 years old looking at rental properties such as the city center or others that have been brought up. The cost of renovating a site for library specific use is extensive. If we do so in a location that isn't owned by us we are at the mercy of the landlord for so many things. Its the old ownership vs. access argument that plagues libraries I guess.