Library Feels Impact of Construction Project

More to come: One block of Fifth Ave. likely to close Aug. 1

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 21, 2010): Construction in the area surrounding the downtown library came up in a couple of ways during the library board’s June meeting held this week.

Construction along Fifth Avenue in Ann Arbor

The view from the entrance of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, looking west. In the foreground is construction from the Fifth Avenue streetscape project. Across the street is a city-owned surface lot that will be closed when the AATA rebuilds the Blake Transit Center, seen to the right.

Vibrations from work on the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, just to the north of the library building, have caused problems with the building’s HVAC system – the library temporarily lost air-conditioning as a result. In a related move, the library board voted to award a contract for HVAC maintenance and repair to Pace Mechanical, despite arguments that it should go to a local company.

And in her director’s report, Josie Parker noted that a public parking lot used by library patrons will close as early as next spring, due to the rebuilding of the AATA’s Blake Transit Center. The city-owned surface lot is located at the northwest corner of Fifth and William, directly across from the library.

The Chronicle followed up with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which oversees management of the surface lot for the city, for more details on possible contingencies for patron parking, as well as other access issues that could arise when Fifth Avenue along that block is closed for at least a year, starting Aug. 1.

Parking, Access for the Library

In her director’s report to the board, Josie Parker reminded board members about the DDA’s ongoing Fifth Avenue and underground parking garage construction projects and their effect on the downtown library, which is located at the northeast corner of Fifth and William. The library will remain open during the construction and patrons will still be able to access the doors opening onto Fifth Avenue. However, until the garage is completed, pedestrians are only able to walk to the library from the sidewalks running south to William Street – pedestrian access along the east side of Fifth, north of the library, is blocked by the construction site.

Parker noted that the downtown library temporarily lost its air conditioning recently as a result of the construction. She said the building’s 25-year-old chillers haven’t been holding up well against the vibrations coming from the construction site. Additionally, she reported that next spring the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is planning to demolish and rebuild its Blake Transit Center, located across the street from the library. That will result in a loss of surface lot parking used by library patrons.

In a phone conversation with The Chronicle later this week, DDA executive director Susan Pollay said her organization has been working to minimize impact on the library and to accommodate the upcoming AATA project as well. The DDA has committed the Fifth & William surface lot to the AATA to use as a bus staging area, as soon as construction begins on the new Blake Transit Center. The AATA is in the design phase, and would need to gain site plan approval from the city before starting construction. That might happen as soon as the spring of 2011, but it could take longer.

In addition to a parking structure a block away, on Fourth and William, there are metered street parking spaces on William just south of the library that can be used by patrons, Pollay said. The DDA recently widened the sidewalk in front of the library along Fifth down to William, removed large planters and installed an ADA-compliant ramp there, she said – all to provide better access for patrons during the construction process. Previously, the ramp to the library entrance was oriented toward the north side, which is now adjacent to the DDA underground parking project.

The changes to the front of the library are also intended to address some concerns that had been expressed about accessibility to AATA board meetings, which are scheduled to take place there starting with the regular August meeting.

The changes to ease access are also in preparation for the closing of South Fifth Avenue between Liberty and William, which will likely occur on Aug. 1. That stretch is expected to remain closed for about 12-18 months. Access to the library for police and fire services was a concern, Pollay said – the widened sidewalk and ramp will make it easier for those emergency services to quickly get to the library’s front entrance from William Street.

Back to the Board Meeting: Financial Issues

During their June 21 meeting, the board amended the budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010. Board members unanimously approved a resolution to make the following transfers:

  • $15,000 from capital outlay expense to communications expense
  • $60,000 from capital outlay expense to supplies expense
  • $50,000 from other operating expenditures to utilities expense
  • $60,000 from other operating expenditures to communications expense

Eli Neiburger, associate director of IT and product development, said the communications budget needed to be amended due to a high demand for Internet access and some phone system issues, which he said are in the process of being resolved. Utilities expenses for the past year also came in over budget. Neiburger told the board that the library regularly adjusts its supplies budget at the end of the fiscal year, due to the high cost of items such as hardware.

As of May 31, 2010, the library’s unrestricted cash balance was $8,147,403. The library has also received $11,556,341 in tax receipts, 99% of its budgeted amount for the current fiscal year. AADL director Josie Parker informed the board that they are waiting on a payment from the county on tax delinquencies for the final 1%. The library also had a positive fund balance of $7,370,875 as of May 31.

Parker noted that the library has received half of its promised state aid: $20,536 for the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled @ AADL program. She said they anticipate receiving more aid before the end of the state’s fiscal year, for a total of about $40,000. This is a drop from previous years, when the library received about $120,000 annually in state aid. Parker said the library’s decision to leave The Library Network, a Southeast Michigan library cooperative, is responsible for the loss of revenue. AADL voted to leave the cooperative at its January 2009 meeting. From The Chronicle’s coverage of that meeting:

Just before the vote, Parker said the library was assuming too great a financial risk by being a member. Because of its size and resources, AADL doesn’t tap services from the cooperative. Yet if state aid that funds TLN isn’t sufficient to cover the cooperative’s costs, members would be on the hook to pay the difference, she said – even members that don’t use its services. Though co-ops were originally designed to share the wealth by providing services that smaller libraries could use, there hasn’t been a recent analysis about their effectiveness, Parker said. Because of the way state funding is structured, if AADL is not a member of the cooperative, it would receive only half of the $120,000 it gets annually from the state – although that funding is never guaranteed.

AADL trustee Barbara Murphy wanted to know if not being part of the cooperative affects the library’s day-to-day operations. Parker responded that it doesn’t at this time, although the library had depended on the cooperative for some “very minimal” things in the past such as magazine subscriptions.

The board also voted unanimously to approve various disbursements for the month of May.

HVAC Contract

At its May meeting, the board had discussed which contractor should receive the contract to provide HVAC equipment maintenance and repair service for the library for a three-year period. The library’s current mechanical services contract with Pace Mechanical expires on June 30, 2010.

The library started the bidding process earlier in the year and received responses from three companies: Pace Mechanical, Goyette Mechanical and Campbell Inc. Pace presented the library with a bid of $261,985 for 2010-2013. Campbell bid $262,500, and Goyette’s bid amounted to $79,000. At a post-bid meeting, library administration later determined that Goyette did not understand the scope of the agreement, quoting a price for quarterly maintenance instead of total coverage.

Although they found both Campbell and Pace to be highly recommendable, reliable and capable of providing quality service, library administrators recommended that Pace receive the contract, since the company is the current contractor and is therefore the most familiar with library equipment.

Kevin Rodgers, a Campbell Inc. maintenance solutions specialist, spoke at the May meeting, reminding the board that the Ann Arbor-based company had worked for the library previously. He also said his company would conduct a feasibility study of all library buildings in order to determine ways to lower operation costs.

The agenda for the board’s meeting this month included a resolution to be voted on, awarding the contract to Pace Mechanical. During the public commentary portion of the meeting, representatives from both Pace and Campbell spoke concerning the board’s decision.

Pace Mechanical service manager Don Lawson told the board he just wanted to be present for their decision concerning the contract. He reminded the board that his company has served the library and taken good care of their equipment for the past four years.

Campbell vice president Dominick Cuda stressed to the board that his company is locally based and connected with the Ann Arbor community. He questioned why the library didn’t decide to use a local contractor, a company that contributes to and pays taxes in the city of Ann Arbor.

HVAC Contract: Board Discussion

When the board discussed the HVAC contract resolution later in the meeting, Parker personally thanked Cuda and Lawson for attending. Parker said she and Ken Nieman – AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations – considered the statement Rodgers made at the previous month’s meeting but ultimately did not change their recommendation that Pace receive the contract. She said this was due to the lower cost of Pace’s services as well as the fact that they felt it was best to keep their current contractor. She pointed out that with the construction currently happening near the downtown building, the library’s equipment is especially vulnerable due to hazards such as dust and vibrations.

“We’re not comfortable changing contractors while we’re in that process,” Parker said, referring to the construction. She added that their decision was not a reflection on Campbell.

AADL board secretary Margaret Leary agreed, saying she had thought a lot during the past month about how the construction threatens the building’s sensitive and aging equipment.

“It seems to me that it’s in the best interest of the library and its patrons to continue with the company that’s done well, although that’s not a disparagement of Campbell,” Leary said.

Board president Rebecca Head agreed with Leary and Parker, while vice president Jan Barney Newman said she supports the library using local companies whenever it can. Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to adopt the resolution and granted the contract to Pace Mechanical.

Director’s Report

Parker informed the board that AADL’s 2010 Summer Reading program — with a “Make it Happen” theme — would kick off on Wednesday, June 23 at The Ark. She described it as an event full of music, singing and dancing aimed at preschool-aged children. Summer reading runs through Aug. 23. Children receive stickers, stamps and prizes as they work toward reading or listening to 10 books. There are also prizes and drawings for teens and adults. Parker said there will be more reading-related events and programs throughout the summer.


Parker’s written report noted the retirement of two library employees. Richard “Dick” Durham retired on May 31, 2010 after working for the library for 15 years. In an email to the AADL staff, Durham stated, “I’ve seen us go from a sleepy little library with three small, overworked branches to the high tech organization we are today, with three new branches, each of which is large enough to be a main branch in most cities. I’m proud to have been a part of it and proud to have been associated with the wonderful people here.”

Sue Budin will retire on June 30. Budin worked for AADL as a librarian for 29 years. Parker’s report stated that Budin is known for her work with teens as well as her passion for poetry. She served on the Teen Advisory Committee for the Michigan Library Association and began the Short Story Writing Contest at AADL with her colleague Vicki Browne 18 years ago.

“We will miss Sue’s gentleness and how her presence alone makes one slow down and take a little more time to consider,” Parker wrote in her report.

The board unanimously passed two resolutions of thanks to Budin and Durham upon their retirement.

Present: Rebecca Head, board president; vice president Jan Barney Newman; treasurer Prue Rosenthal; secretary Margaret Leary; and trustees Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell, and Barbara Murphy. Also: AADL director Josie Parker.

Next meeting: The board’s next regular meeting is on Monday, July 19, 2010. The public portion of the meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan contributed to this report. About the writer: Helen Nevius is a freelance writer for The Chronicle.


  1. June 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm | permalink

    Thanks so much for Helen Nevius’ excellent reporting.

    Regarding parking for use of the downtown library: I have been parking at the Fourth & William structure for that purpose. Granted, it means driving up and up and walking for a whole block to the library, but there are always spaces and the rate is lower.

  2. June 25, 2010 at 4:09 pm | permalink

    I’d like some more numbers around the communications expenses. In the April report they came in at $37K over an estimated $13K. It looks like there was a $75K shortfall over the FY2010 budget. What are they expected to be per month going forward?

    How much of this is due to increase in patron usage of Internet v. phone system issues and of the internet portion how much of that is due to increased use of streaming media?

  3. By Barbara
    June 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm | permalink

    It is all so pedestrian unfriendly. I find myself walking in a traffic lane to reach Earthen Jar and the library or going blocks out of my way. Certainly new cross walks would help ease this problem? Just try getting from the post office to the library easily. Can’t imagine what it is like for those with limited mobility. Is this a forecast of things to come as the DDA courts the “young professionals”?

  4. June 28, 2010 at 9:24 am | permalink

    By coincidence a friend from Budapest just sent me this shiny video [link] of an underground car “multi-parker” where you drive the car into the basement, put it on a carousel, and robots do the rest of the parking. This seems like a much cooler use of European technology than Herr Dreisetl’s water park.

    I wonder if it’s too late to retrofit the library lot …