AADL Board to Vote on New Downtown Library

If passed, bond proposal for $65M building would be on Nov. 6 ballot

A new $65 million downtown library could be in the relatively near future for Ann Arbor, as the Ann Arbor library board prepares to place a bond proposal on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot to fund the project. A resolution authorizing the proposal is on the agenda for the board’s July 16, 2012 meeting. The specific ballot language would be approved at a separate special meeting, sometime before Aug. 14.

Library building on South Fifth Ave.

Looking east from the top of the Fourth & William parking structure, the large brick building on the right is the downtown Ann Arbor library on South Fifth Avenue. To the left is the new Library Lane, running between Fifth and Division atop the underground parking structure.

Update: The board approved a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on Monday evening and set a meeting for July 30 at 7 p.m. to vote on ballot language.

A millage to cover bond payments would be levied in addition to the AADL’s current operating millage. The library is authorized to collect up to 1.92 mills, but currently levies only a portion of that – 1.55 mills.

The board packet for July 16 includes a six-page memo from a special facilities committee that the board appointed in April 2012.  The committee’s task was to make a recommendation about the building. The three-member committee is chaired by Prue Rosenthal and includes Ed Surovell and Nancy Kaplan. Their recommendation calls for building a new structure on the current site, at the northeast corner of South Fifth and William, next to the new underground parking garage.

The memo states: ”Our community continues to feel that the Ann Arbor District Library’s Downtown location is a vital hub to our community. In conversations with community leaders, they are virtually unanimous in supporting steps to ensure our library can meet the needs of this community for the next 50 years.”

The AADL is about a month away from an Aug. 14 deadline to put a millage proposal on the November ballot. Also on Monday’s agenda is an item to set a special board meeting for approval of ballot language. The board packet does not indicate when the special meeting would be held. The board’s next regular meeting is Aug. 20.

Downtown Library: Picking Up from 2008

The AADL started down the path to construct a new building several years ago, based in part on a 2007 20-year feasibility study for the downtown building. Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects, an Ann Arbor firm that also designed the new city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure, was hired to develop designs for a new downtown library. Skanska was hired as the construction firm for the project.

The board suspended that effort in late 2008 because of a downturn in the economy. Since then, the issue of what to do with the downtown facility has emerged regularly at board meetings and retreats. It is also part of the AADL strategic plan that relates to physical facilities, which identifies two goals: (1) Renovate or replace the downtown library with attention to the condition of the existing building, tax base, revenue stream, development of surrounding properties and demographics; and (2) Maximize the efficiency and utilization of meeting rooms and other facilities.

In November 2011, the board voted to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help resume the process of evaluating the downtown library’s future. The library subsequently commissioned a survey of about 400 local residents, conducted in March of 2012 by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA. Results of that survey were presented to the board at its April 16, 2012 meeting and indicated voter support for a tax increase to pay for major renovations or reconstruction of the downtown building.

The survey found that if a vote were taken on funding a project requiring a tax increase of 0.69 mills – a $65 million renovation or new construction project – then 45% of survey respondents would vote yes, and another 15% would lean toward a yes vote. That compares with a total of 37% who said they would either vote no or lean toward no. Support was even stronger among survey respondents for scaled-back options with lower tax increases. [.pdf of survey results]

The board held three public forums on the issue in June. For Chronicle coverage of the first forum on June 9, see: “AADL Board: What’s Your Library Vision?” That article describes the history of the downtown building and previous efforts to renovate and rebuild. Videos of the three June forums, as well as additional background information, are posted on AADL’s website.

To support a millage campaign, an informal group has already formed, which includes former Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon. The group has already explored the logistics of obtaining absentee voter information.

The decision to fund the project with a bond proposal is different from other recent library building projects. The $24 million outlay to build three new branches over the past decade had come from revenues generated from the library’s existing millage. AADL incurred no debt for those projects, because the library board has discretion about how much of the voter-authorized 1.92 mills it will levy. To pay for those new branches, the board levied the highest amount – 1.92 mills. When the board decided not to move forward with a new downtown building, board members lowered the millage to its current rate of 1.55 mills.

Committee Recommendation

The six-page memo from the special facilities committee to the board, which is dated July 6, 2012, cites a variety of factors that played into the commitee’s recommendation. Many of these issues were outlined by the AADL board and staff at the June 2012 public forums, including:

  • The lack of an auditorium in the existing building. Events are held in a basement multi-purpose room, or in other off-site venues, such as the Michigan Theater.
  • The downtown building can’t accommodate the demand for smaller public meeting space, which has increased nearly 22% over the past three years.
  • The Ann Arbor News archive, which the AADL is digitizing, is located at an off-site office park and is not publicly accessible.
  • Other needs cited by the committee include quiet reading rooms, cabling for wifi and other technology, ADA accessibility, a better-designed children’s area, and better configuration to address security concerns.

The committee’s memo also states that cost estimates from 2008 were reviewed, and it was found that those estimates are consistent with the current construction market. “At that time, a new 160,000-square-foot building would cost $71 million and a project renovating the 1990 portion of the building and replacing the 1958 building with a four-story addition would have cost $65 million. These estimates included the costs associated with moving out, operating in temporary locations, and moving back into the new library. The difference is less than 10%. There are clearly economic benefits, long-term and short-term, for building now,” the memo states.

Next Steps

At the June 9 public forum, AADL director Josie Parker had laid out a possible timeline for a downtown building project. The board would need to engage an architect and construction management firm, and start talking about what the building would look like, how big it would be, and what would go in it. Developing a schematic design could take about 18 months.

During that time, the library would secure temporary locations at other sites to continue the downtown library’s operations and services, and the existing building would be demolished. Based on the AADL’s experience building other branches, Parker estimated it would take another 18-24 months to build the new structure. The entire process could take four to five years, depending on how long the design phase takes, and on the weather, which is a big factor in Michigan, she said.

Parker told the June 9 forum attendees that the library would try to keep as much programming as possible, but most of the downtown collection would be stored off-site. Patrons could request items via the AADL website, and pick up materials at any of the other branches. So the library would be moving more materials throughout the system, she said, which will be a huge logistical challenge, but the staff would handle it.

Parker also stressed that the project would not result in cuts to the library’s full-time staff. ”We will not lay anyone off for this,” she said. But at times of the year when the library might typically hire more part-time employees, some of those position wouldn’t be filled.

In response to a query at the forum about where the temporary sites might be located, Parker said the staff hadn’t identified locations at that point. They wouldn’t start doing that until they know there’s a need, she said – until a decision is made about the downtown building.

The July 16 AADL board meeting’s regular session starting at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room at the downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The meeting includes an opportunity for public commentary.

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  1. July 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm | permalink

    I’d like to know how the $21-26 million Providence estimate for the renovation and addition turned in to $65 million, but I can’t find a copy of the 2008 cost estimate. Can the Chronicle help me out?

    My main concern now is the five years that the downtown library will be closed. There are many unused or underused lots downtown, including one next door and another across the street. Isn’t there some way to construct the new building while continuing to use the old one? I know all the arguments about how the land was given to AADL with the stipulation that it be used for a library, and how the alternate sites are owned by different units of government. But if we had some strong leadership, it seems to me this problem could be solved.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    July 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm | permalink

    During the UMMA renovation, the entire collection was in storage for two years or so. It sucked for everyone involved, staff and patrons. But when the new building opened, I think most people felt it had been worth it. And at least AADL has the branches.

    (Not commenting on whether the new library is a good idea–just saying a long-term closing isn’t desirable but it’s survivable.)

  3. By Stew Nelson
    July 17, 2012 at 8:09 am | permalink

    This is a project we can all get behind. It is too bad the idea was shelved in 2008. When the economy is bad is exactly when the library is needed most. Oh well, better late than never. This will be an asset for every resident of Ann Arbor. If the Library Lot can become our “Central Park” it will provide the perfect compliment and leave a legacy that will make us all proud.


  4. By Eric
    July 17, 2012 at 9:02 am | permalink

    By the time this is finished few people will need to go to a physical building to get printed information. Meetings can easily be held in rented spaces, taverns, etc. Rumpus space for children can go to elementary schools. This is basically a white elephant project. Why not admit that the main purpose is to provide money for architects and construction companies and to keep the dufferdom payroll going?

  5. By Becky
    July 17, 2012 at 9:52 am | permalink

    What I want to know is when we going to get a new West branch library? All the other branch libraries have been rebuilt with fancy “green” features and so forth, while the West Branch has just been left to languish in a too-tiny strip mall location. There’s plenty of land nearby that could by used for a new branch library. How come every single other branch AND the main library are getting expensive overhauls but no one has even mentioned improvements to the West branch? Those of us who live on the west side pay taxes too, you know.

  6. By Smitt
    July 17, 2012 at 9:55 am | permalink

    An organization that has already proved it cannot properly maintain a large building. When your own incompetence is the reason you expect $65 million, I vote no.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    July 17, 2012 at 10:15 am | permalink

    So with interest payments, we’re talking over a hundred million dollars? And a closed downtown library for five years?

  8. By Susie
    July 17, 2012 at 11:11 am | permalink

    @1 (Jim Rees): I’m not sure where you got the idea that the downtown library would be closed for five years. The article says the construction of the new library would take 1.5 to 2 years; the library would be closed for an unspecified period before construction for moving out and demolition.

    “. . . . Developing a schematic design could take about 18 months.

    “During that time, the library would secure temporary locations at other sites to continue the downtown library’s operations and services, and the existing building would be demolished. Based on the AADL’s experience building other branches, Parker estimated it would take another 18-24 months to build the new structure. The entire process could take four to five years, depending on how long the design phase takes, and on the weather, which is a big factor in Michigan, she said.”

    It’s still a long time to be without a downtown library, of course; but we can hope the results will be worth the wait.

  9. By m.c. zacharias
    July 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm | permalink

    unconscionable disposal of a sturdy, attractive building.
    ann arbor……….please simply vote NO!

  10. July 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm | permalink

    Re: 8

    I was taking five years as the total, subtracting 1.5 years for the design phase, and adding 20%. But that’s actually closer to four years. My apologies.

  11. By James Jefferson
    July 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm | permalink

    The only good thing I can think to say about this is that at least the library board had the decency and planning skills to build the new branches without raising debt. And they had the common sense to set aside this project when the economy soured, instead of plowing on with it like the city would do. Also, how many times have you had a millage rate go back down?

    That being said, I don’t think this is the best solution to the library “problem”. I agree the west side is more needy, we on the Northside had a mall style branch for years, we were rewarded for our patience with Traverwood. My real complaint is that those of us unfortunate enough to be part of working class Ann Arbor are facing an ever increasing tax burden that makes it difficult to save, and maybe difficult to stay in the community. We are big library users, and for years I have been happy to pay the relatively few dollars per year for the outstanding services provided. But when combined with a technology bond, a property tax increase, rising water and utility rates, rising gas prices, a potential DIA bond, a potential train station bond and god knows what else, it all adds up to too much. I am afraid I will have to vote NO on this.