Meeting Watch: Ann Arbor District Library (15 Sept 2008)

Board members vote to tear down main library and build anew

At its Monday evening meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board unanimously approved tearing down the main library building and constructing a new one from the ground up, rather than renovating the existing building on South Fifth Avenue.

The decision gives the go-ahead for architects to focus on that option, said AADL director Josie Parker. She said it also means she will focus on funding options, including going to voters to request a new millage for the project, which could cost more than $70 million.

From left: Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker, board chair Rebecca Head, Jan Barney Newman and Prue Rosenthal, at the Sept. 15 board meeting.

From left: Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker, board chair Rebecca Head, and board members Jan Barney Newman and Prue Rosenthal, at the Sept. 15 board meeting.

The board had discussed the options at length at their August retreat, and earlier this month Parker had presented some of those options to the board of the Downtown Development Authority, which has recently authorized a $56.4 million budget for an underground parking garage adjacent to the library. The parking garage is currently undergoing site plan review and resubmission to city planning staff.

On Monday, several board members summarized their reasoning in deciding to build anew. The difference in cost between the two options was negligible, in part because it would be expensive to bring the current building up to the desired standards. A remodel also wouldn’t give the library flexibility to expand, and a new design would bring operational efficiencies in ways that aren’t currently possible.

The vote was followed by applause around the board table. “Here we go,” Parker said.

Earlier in the meeting, board members discussed whether to pursue LEED certification for the project. At the recommendation of Luckenbach Ziegelman Architects, the board voted to spend up to $15,000 to register with the U.S. Green Building Council – the first step in starting the LEED process. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a stamp of approval that the project has used environmentally conscientious building practices.) Parker noted that the building would be LEED certifiable regardless of whether they got the official designation. Board members asked the architects to provide a specific cost for getting certified, before they decide whether to go through the process.

In other business, the board also authorized Parker to transition the Washtenaw County Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, now administered by the county, to AADL. The county had requested that this transfer take place – the library was due to close at year’s end because of budget cuts. Parker said she plans to expand services for the group – by adding programs for families and children, for example – and hopes to also increase the number of people registered for these special services throughout the county.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Absent: None

Next meeting: Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave.


  1. September 16, 2008 at 7:53 am | permalink

    Mary, thanks for the excellent article. I had NO idea that the library for the blind was going to close. That’s forever on my list of “to do field trips” for my kiddos (I teach the blind at DPS). I’m relieved to hear that it will not only stay open, but will expand.

  2. By Mary Morgan
    September 16, 2008 at 9:53 am | permalink

    TeacherPatti: A couple of people spoke up during the meeting’s public comment session in support of the county library’s services for the blind and disabled, fearful that those services would be curtailed or eliminated by AADL. Josie Parker said the transition might take a while, but that they were committed to that constituency. Glad you liked the article!

  3. By Matt
    September 16, 2008 at 10:38 am | permalink

    While the AADL is short on space, moving the library for the blind might make it more accessible — the old location was pretty out-of-the-way. Is there any word on whether staff will be transitioned? There are some great and experienced folks working at the County, and I don’t know that there are qualified staff at AADL. Can you get some comments from current County library patrons and the AADL? I’d love to hear more about this.

  4. By Leah Gunn
    September 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    We at the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners are grateful to the AADL for taking over the services of the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled. The program will be supported by the taxpayers of the AADL District (which is the same as the AA Public Schools) but will serve the entire county. According to what I have been told personally by Josie Parker, the same programs will continue for the patrons, and she wants to add activites and services, expecially for children who are not served now.

    So thank you to the AADL and its taxpayers for coninuing to provide this very valuable service to all county citizens.

  5. By A. L. Bliss
    September 16, 2008 at 2:53 pm | permalink


    Regarding tearing down the current library: I figure these things happen, but will lament this one more than some, as the building is one of a few in town designed by Alden B. Dow, a rather amazing architect who was a student of F. L. Wright. Some of his designs don’t fit very comfortably with a 2008 aesthetic – not that I could tell you what a 2008 aesthetic is. (His works include: Ann Arbor City Hall, UM admin bldg, UM Botanical Gardens, Greenhills School, etc.)

    But as a part of American architectural history, he’s a good example of someone who took Wright’s instruction and put his own spin on it. Look at the Guggenheim Museum, then look at the Guy Larcom building here, and notice the similar influence. One needn’t think city hall is a beautiful building to appreciate how fresh it looked in 1963. Dow did most of his work in Midland, MI (being the son of H.H. Dow of Dow Chemical fame), where he designed a great many churches, and (my favorite) private homes. His own home and studio is well worth a visit, and is, I think, his masterpiece:

    So, there will be one less A. B. Dow design in the world, once the library comes down. Not many will likely care much, but I’ll miss it, mostly because I admire the work of someone who believed in a bold vision of a future that never quite happened, but was cool in its own right.

  6. September 17, 2008 at 7:27 am | permalink

    It’s great that the AADL is willing to rescue the programs that the library for the blind offered. However, I would not hold out too much hope that the existing staff will be re-hired by the AADL.

    Also, I say “good riddance” to the present Alden Dow-designed downtown library. Like most architects, Dow was willing to build anything. However, his specialty was not public architecture – it was private housing. And his lack of inspiration in the public architecture field is obvious from what he designed in Ann Arbor: the city hall, the Fleming Administration Building, the Community Center on North Main, and the downtown library.

    (Note: I retired from the AADL Board on June 30.)

  7. By Mary Morgan
    September 17, 2008 at 8:31 am | permalink

    AADL director Josie Parker writes about the library building project here:

    Re. the county’s Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled: AADL has agreed to take on the services, most of the materials, and the equipment – not the employees.