Third Group Forms to Oppose Library Bond

A third group – called “LOL=Love Our Library” – has formed to oppose the Ann Arbor District Library’s $65 million bond proposal to build a new downtown building. The group filed campaign finance paperwork with the Washtenaw County clerk’s office earlier this week, on Oct. 2, to form an official ballot question committee. Sheila Rice is listed as treasurer.

Douglas Jewett had filed paperwork on Sept. 25 for the Save the Ann Arbor Library ballot question committee. He also secured a sidewalk vendor permit on Aug. 20 for space in front of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth. He uses the space to lobby against demolition of the current building, citing its architectural significance. The original portion of the building was designed by Alden B. Dow. His website includes a letter to AADL director Josie Parker, outlining in more detail his reasons for opposing the new building.

Another group opposing the new building is called Protect Our Libraries. It also was formed in September and its treasurer is Kathy Griswold, a former member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board. The group recently started putting up yard signs.

Getting an earlier start was the pro-bond committee called Our New Downtown Library, led by Ellie Serras. That group officially formed in July, but had been working on a campaign to support the bond proposal for several months before that. Serras had updated the library board about the committee’s efforts during public commentary at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.

The AADL board voted in July to place the bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. The 30-year, $65 million bond question will appear on the ballot as Proposal 1, with the following ballot language: “Shall the Ann Arbor District Library, formed by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed sixty-five million dollars ($65,000,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds, in one or more series, payable in not to exceed thirty (30) years from the date of issuance of such bonds, for the purpose of paying all or part of the costs of constructing, furnishing and equipping a new main library building to be located at the current site of the downtown library building, including costs related thereto?”

If approved, it’s estimated that an 0.56 mill tax would be levied in 2013 – or $56 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. The estimate for the average annual millage rate needed to pay off the bonds over the 30-year period is 0.47 mills. That amount would be in addition to the library’s operating millage. AADL is authorized to collect up to 1.92 mills, but currently levies only a portion of that – 1.55 mills.


  1. October 5, 2012 at 9:25 am | permalink

    It is unprecedented to have three committees opposing a bond issue! Of course the “pro” bond group has big money behind it. But still – the formation of three committees, independent of each other, is an indication of serious displeasure in the electorate.

  2. October 5, 2012 at 10:27 am | permalink

    We could’ve all started our own 1-person committee’s too. Instead we decided to pool our efforts and work together.

  3. October 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm | permalink

    Hm. I wonder how big a pool is needed to hold all their money….

  4. By Lyn Davidge
    October 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    It’a my understanding that campaign paperwork is filed by only one person – in the case of ballot questions, the treasurer of the committee. That is true with all the library bond issue committees. Quarterly financial reports are filed by all groups that raise money over a certain threshhold. The “Our New Library” committee formed immediately after the July 16 decision to place the bond issue on the ballot and had raised $7500 from 4 individuals by July 19. Therefore, this group had to file a quarterly financial report at the end of July. The next reports will be due in late October, at which time the opposition committees may have raised enough to be required to file, also. You can search the local campaign finance database at: [link]

  5. By Eric
    October 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    Perhaps the basic stupidity of spending this much money on a new library in the twilight of the Paper Information Age at a time of great economic difficulty and uncertainty is sinking in.

  6. October 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm | permalink

    Perhaps Mr. Baker or someone else from the “pro” committee would be kind enough to post here a list of contributors and contributions since July that exceed $100.00 – in the interest of transparency.

  7. By Donald Harrison
    October 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | permalink

    Anyone can learn more about the pro committee, including its diverse spectrum of supporters, on the campaign’s website: Many people are passionate about rebuilding our downtown library to invest in a critical artery of arts, culture and information for everyone in this community.

  8. October 6, 2012 at 9:27 am | permalink

    So – what about that report on contributors/contributions?

  9. October 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm | permalink

    I just got a postcard from the “pro” group. Near the bottom of the page with my name and address, it says:

    “Thank you to our friends at Print-Tech and Dykema for their support.”

    I don’t know what Print-Tech is. But Dykema is a big law firm that does a lot of legal work for the Library.

    How much have they contributed?

  10. October 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm | permalink

    David, I find this drumbeat about contributions to be distasteful. I don’t plan to vote for the bond issue but there is a legitimate case to be made on both sides of the question, and people are entitled to support the side that they embrace with monetary contributions.

    I just got a postcard from the “no” group. (That is, No #1, Protect Our Libraries.) Simple and nicely done. It appears that both sides of the issue are able to get their word out.

  11. By Steve Bean
    October 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm | permalink

    Does anyone know what the anticipated energy demand would be for the proposed building relative to the current? I’ve seen no discussion of operating expenses in any of the linked sites, including AADL’s. I understand that new mechanical systems and design would be more energy efficient. However, a larger building could still use more energy overall, especially if utilized as currently envisioned.

    What we want and what we can afford are different matters. What people want is very understandable. What we can afford is more difficult to determine.

    The situation I continue to be concerned about is a deflationary depression in which (most relevant to this question) house values drop by as much as 75% (to approximately 1970 levels) over the next decade or so. Debt of any sort becomes very challenging to pay back in such a scenario, even a less-severe one. In this case, with property tax revenues dropping along with house values, even though wages and operating expenses would drop in cost, covering debt load on top of operating costs might not be possible. Raising taxes in real terms also might not be possible. Therefore, a new downtown library building–purchased with debt as opposed to savings–might compromise the operations of the entire system.

    Given our cumulative level of public debt at the local level (let alone state and federal debt) I’m doubtful (because I’m convinced after years of study that a deflationary depression is very likely) that we can afford to pay what amount to inflated construction costs now with more debt. In a year or two we’ll be better able to determine if we can afford the (then) lower construction costs, perhaps for a smaller new building.

  12. By Tom Whitaker
    October 9, 2012 at 11:42 am | permalink

    I would vote “yes” for a comprehensive renovation. I will vote “no” to tearing down a building that, like me, is simply experiencing the challenges of being middle-aged and doesn’t quite function as well as it once did.

    To me, this is not about being pro-library or anti-library. It’s about making the most efficient use of our built resources and our tax dollars.

    As a construction professional who has managed dozens of renovation and historic restoration projects, I know first-hand how rewarding it is to breathe new life into a building and prepare it for its next 50-100 years of service. It is challenging, but highly educational, requiring creativity from designers and tradespeople alike. What a great learning opportunity for the public to watch this process unfold on a comprehensive website with drawings, photos, webcams, and time-lapse video.

  13. By Steve Bean
    October 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm | permalink

    Tom, I think that others who favor a new building can easily dismiss your perspective due to the limits of your analogy. Rather than a better version of you, for example, they want a high level athlete or a woman or something else that you couldn’t be ‘renovated’ into, at least not simply. I think you’ll need to speak to the desire for an auditorium, cafe, etc. (one way or another) before those people might be swayed.

    That said, I think the more pertinent question is, “What can we afford?” We can most likely afford to keep the current building, including ongoing maintenance and some equipment replacement. I would appreciate seeing anyone’s argument to the contrary. I’m doubtful that we can afford a new building and maybe not even a large renovation or addition. By afford, I mean without systemwide operations suffering as a result.

    The millage request is an increase of 30%. US economic growth is on the order of 1% (if the means of determining that number are valid, which is debatable). Home values have slightly rebounded since 2008 while employment has barely increased–if not decreased (another debatable metric), and incomes have declined and not recovered. How is now a good time to take this step?

  14. October 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    I’m reminded of the new automobile we once bought using a dealer-sold auto loan. We left it behind when we came to Michigan, so sold it privately at a slight discount to the Blue Book price. In paying off the loan, I was bemused to notice that the balance remaining was considerably above what we obtained by selling it at essentially the market price. We’d have been better off to let the loan company have the car (though I don’t do things that way).

    Will we be buying a library that will still be a good value in 30 years, or will there be agitation to replace all or part of it before then? The fact that the term for repaying the cost has been extended over such a long window increases the danger that it will fall short of its Blue Book value too.

  15. By Tom Whitaker
    October 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm | permalink

    @13: When studying for my master’s in historic preservation, a professor once remarked about buildings struggling with middle-age. If a building made it past that—surviving that awkward period where it was deemed ugly and out-of-fashion—it would move into a new phase of appreciation and respect. In the cyclical world that is American architecture, some of the same design elements would start to appear on brand new buildings as architects looked back in time for inspiration. Eventually, if it survived a few more decades, a building might be deemed “historic” and receive a loving restoration.

    Think of the old Italianate buildings on Main Street. In the 1950′s, when these buildings were in their fifties and sixties, they were considered old-fashioned and gaudy and were covered up with metal panels or “cheese grater” facades to give them a modern appearance. But 20-30 years later, people once again began to appreciate their original historic styles, and the cheese graters and metal panels started to be removed. Recently we’ve seen two Main Street buildings get their ornate sheet metal cornices reconstructed. Meanwhile, on the interior, the buildings have been adapted to suit new uses, such as loft apartments and office space–or multi-story restaurants. Main Street is a wildly successful strip that has received national awards from urban planners and others for its “sense of place.”

    I personally think the original Dow portion of the building, while quite simple, does speak to its era, as does the Osler addition. Maybe someday they will both be appreciated by passersby who see them etched on a glass panel across the street from the site of the new library.

    But, regardless of anyone’s opinion about their significance in architectural circles, the structures themselves are sturdy and quite capable of sheltering any number of uses on the interior. There is intrinsic value in the materials already in place that need not be wasted. I urge voters to reject the millage and send a message to the library board that we want them to go back and look at this again with a sense of responsibility for the environment, some Yankee-style frugality, and some creativity, and come back to us with an exciting, but less expensive plan to re-use the existing buildings.

  16. By Steve Bean
    October 11, 2012 at 9:32 am | permalink

    From the AADL Facilities Committee’s July 6, 2012 recommendation for putting the bond question on the ballot (p. 22 at [link]):

    The committee also took our financial practices into consideration when making this recommendation. The AADL does not levy the full millage allowed by the voters, and has not done so for several years. We levy 1.55 mills, but could levy 1.93 mills. Because there is a voted operating millage in perpetuity that will cover the operational costs of any new facility, as evidenced by our branch building experience, we do not need to ask the voters for an additional operating millage. Ann Arbor has historically valued and funded a library system that reflects the community’s standards for education, learning, and literacy. Since 1866 when the Ladies’ Library Association opened the first public circulating library in Ann Arbor, those fortunate enough to be in positions to secure a positive future for the library have done so. Sometimes the choices were clear; other times, not so clear. They were always important and rarely without controversy. [Full paragraph.]

    As I explained in #11, this is one of those times when the choices are not so clear. The committee made an assumption that the operating millage will cover the costs of the new building (let alone the others), based (I presume) on relatively steady property values. That assumption didn’t hold in 2008. It’s not likely to hold in 2013 and beyond.

    Several writers and economists predicted the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, and those same people are predicting an even greater collapse of the unprecedented credit bubble and the still-inflated housing bubble–soon, with long-term consequences, and with a recovery period of decades (if ever). Many of us may no longer be among “those fortunate enough to be in positions to secure a positive future for the library”, at least not beyond what we’re already contributing.


    Our review found that the 2008 cost estimates are accurate for today’s 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. [Full paragraph.]

    While the bond amount of $65 million is clear, the above raises the question of whether the anticipated cost of the project would be fully covered by that amount.

    More importantly, the committee’s concluding assertion is unsubstantiated, for both the long term and the short term. Without exploring likely scenarios, economic benefits (and costs, but again it’s really a question of affordability) can’t be confidently projected. Without an explanation of those purported benefits, including the assumptions they’re based on, voters would be making an uninformed decision.