AADL Board: Renovation Not the Best Option

New downtown library to reflect role as community gathering place

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 16, 2012): Following a discussion that focused on why rebuilding was preferable to renovation, the AADL board voted unanimously to put a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a new downtown library at its current location.

Ellie Serras, Ed Surovell

Ellie Serras talks with Ann Arbor District Library board member Ed Surovell after the board's July 16, 2012 meeting, when trustees voted to put a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Serras is part of a group working to support a bond campaign. (Photos by the writer.)

The issue of renovating had emerged during public commentary near the start of the meeting, when two speakers – Lyn Davidge and David Diephuis – urged the board to support renovation of the existing building rather than a new structure.

But board members all spoke in favor of rebuilding, citing the condition of the existing building and the need for features – like a raked auditorium – that couldn’t be incorporated into a renovated structure. Several trustees pointed to the library’s role as a community gathering place, and said that the building’s current configuration can’t be modified to accommodate the growing number of events, meetings and other activities that resulted in over 600,000 visits to the downtown library last year.

Some board members also noted that a new library building could be a catalyst for other downtown changes. Ed Surovell described the area around the library as an “architectural Sahara” dominated by parking, and said the library has the opportunity to build a monument that would be a centerpiece for the city. The site at 343 S. Fifth is south of a new underground parking garage and across the street from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s Blake Transit Center, which is being rebuilt.

Surovell was also the impetus behind a debate about the term of the bond. The initial resolution proposed by Nancy Kaplan – who serves with Surovell and Prue Rosenthal on a special facilities committee that recommended the bond proposal – included a 25-year term. But Surovell, founder and CEO of Edward Surovell Realtors, argued strenuously for a 30-year term. A longer term would increase the total interest payment over the life of the bond, but lower the millage rate that taxpayers would pay each year – from an estimated 0.59 mills over 25 years, to an estimated 0.56 mills for the longer period. [Details on the interest and millage rates will vary, depending on market conditions when the bonds are issued.]

Surovell’s argument eventually proved persuasive to a majority of board members, and on a 4-3 vote the bond resolution was amended to a 30-year term.

The board also set a special meeting for Monday, July 30 at 7 p.m. to approve ballot language for the bond proposal. The deadline for filing the ballot language is Aug. 14. The board also voted to amend its charge to the special facilities committee. Rosenthal, Surovell and Kaplan will continue to serve on the committee through 2012, making recommendations to the board on issues leading up to the Nov. 6 vote, as well as on next steps after the bond proposal is approved or rejected by voters.

New Downtown Library

The AADL is actually picking up work that it began several years ago, based in part on a 2007 20-year feasibility study for the downtown building. At that time the board had hired Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects – an Ann Arbor firm that also designed the new city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure – to develop designs for a new downtown library. Skanska was hired as the construction firm for the project.

But as the economy – and the bond market – took a sharp downturn in 2008, the board suspended its effort in November of that year. But the project has remained in the background and is part of the AADL’s 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.

Late last year, the board took action to resume the process, voting in November 2011 to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help evaluate 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. [.pdf of survey results]

In June, the board held three public forums. Videos of the three June forums, as well as additional background information, are posted on AADL’s website. 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.

New Downtown Library: Public Commentary

Library board meetings typically draw few if any members of the public, but several people attended the July 16 meeting. Three people from a group that’s working to support a bond proposal attended the meeting but did not formally address the board. Those three were former Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon, Ellie Serras of the Main Street Business Improvement Zone, and Betsy Jackson, a consultant who helped set up the Main Street BIZ.

Two people spoke directly about the downtown library proposal. Lyn Davidge, who ran for a library trustee position in 2010 but did not win a seat, told the board that when she arrived that evening, no one had signed up to speak during public commentary. She thinks it’s time that people start attending AADL board meetings, and noted that board members have been saying that same thing, too. She noted that she has had a library card since 1945, when the library was still part of the public school system. [Her father, Emerson F. Powrie, served as deputy superintendent for the Ann Arbor Public Schools in the 1970s. At that time, the library was part of the school system, and the library director reported to Powrie.]

Lyn Davidge, David Diephuis

Lyn Davidge and David Diephuis talk after the July 16 AADL board meeting. Both spoke during public commentary, expressing support for a renovation rather than a new building.

She said she’s always voted for any library millage, and that was true for her parents before her. But in this case, she doesn’t feel that she has enough information. She’s 99.9% sure that unless something “stupendous” happens between now and Nov. 6, she’ll be voting no on funding for a new building. She said she feels more amenable to a renovation. Even then, her vote would depend on how the ballot language is worded, what the renovations would include, and how much it could cost. At this point, she’s definitely leaning toward the yes column for renovations.

David Diephuis agreed with Davidge – he’s not sure the case has been made for a new building. He noted that he attended the June public forums on the issue, but felt that $65 million is a lot for this project. Diephuis pointed out that just 21 years ago, the library had spent $10 million on an expansion project for the downtown building, which doubled its size. He read from an Ann Arbor News article describing the expansion, which stated that the building was designed for flexibility, future technology needs, and expanded collections. Now, the building is going to be scrapped, he said. How can anyone predict what the library’s needs will be in 25-50 years? Things change fast, Diephuis said, and he hoped the board would consider an extensive renovation rather than rebuilding.

A third public speaker was Alan Haber, who did not directly address the building proposal but talked about the need for the library to get involved in future plans for its “front porch” – the top of the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, which is owned by the city and adjacent to the AADL downtown site. He said he definitely supported more people coming to speak to the board, as Davidge had suggested.

Haber noted that supporters of a green space and community commons had held an “Imagine a Park” block party on July 14 to show how beautiful it might be. He said he knows that library officials have anxiety about a community commons, but he urged them to participate in discussions. Even though it’s not their land, it’s intimately connected to the library’s future. [It has been named the Library Lane Parking Structure, a reference to the new road between Fifth and Division, between the library and the parking structure. The parking structure is also designed so that in the future, an underground connection could be made into the library.]

Haber said many people in Ann Arbor want a green space at that location, which could include more events like the one on July 14. There were a few glitches to the event, he said, but people had a great time – kids were somersaulting on the sod that had been temporarily placed there, and it was “pretty neat.” It was nice karma on the edge of the library, and he urged board members to let it permeate their thinking. Haber noted that in New York City, the relationship between Bryant Park and the public library is beautiful. He concluded by wishing them well in their deliberations about the new building, and said he thinks the town can do something beautiful in a volunteer spirit, without putting the parking structure property on the tax roll.

New Downtown Library: Bond Term

Nancy Kaplan, a member of the special facilities committee that was recommending a new building, moved the resolution to place a $65 million, 25-year bond on the Nov. 6 ballot to replace the downtown library at its current location. Margaret Leary, the board president, asked Kaplan to explain how the committee had arrived at the 25-year term for the bond issue.

Kaplan replied that the committee wanted something that would be financially best for both the citizens and the library. She said that 25 years seemed like a financially sound compromise for those who will be paying the millage and for the library.

Leary elaborated, saying she had attended the most recent committee meeting because Ed Surovell – one of the three committee members, along with Kaplan and Prue Rosenthal – hadn’t been able to attend. Leary referred to a chart that the committee had been given with estimates for 20-year, 25-year and 29-year terms. She noted that there are variables that can’t be controlled, like interest rates and property values, which would determine how much revenue is generated from a millage. If property values increase, millage revenues increase, and vice versa.

The committee was trying to strike a balance between two things, Leary said. One is the amount that taxpayers will pay, and the desire to make those payments affordable. The other is the total interest on the debt. She likened it to a mortgage – when you have a longer-term mortgage, you’re paying more interest overall but your monthly payments are lower. The 25-year term is recommended because it diminishes the total interest that would be charged.

Kaplan said it saves the library money.

Jan Barney Newman asked for clarification. Can’t the interest rate be set at a fixed rate? Yes, Leary replied, but not at this point. The interest rate is determined at the time the bonds are sold. If voters approve the bond proposal, the library would likely put out the bonds for sale in January or February of 2013, and wouldn’t know the interest rate until that time. The rate might also depend on the method they use to sell the bonds, she said.

Based on a chart provided to the board, a 25-year, $65 million bond would have an estimated interest rate of 5% and a millage rate of 0.59 mills. A 29-year, $65 million bond had a higher estimated interest rate of 5.25%, but a lower millage rate of 0.56 mills. [The chart did not provide information for a 30-year bond.] The total interest payments would be higher under the longer-term scenario – $64.669 million in interest for the 29-year bond, compared to $51.478 million for the 25-year term. Details on the interest and millage rates will vary, depending on market conditions when the bonds are issued.

Kaplan said the estimated millage for a 25-year term seemed reasonable – at 0.59 mills, which would be lower than the previously estimated 0.69 mills used as an example during a March 2012 survey of voters.

Surovell said he thought he had convinced the committee that a 30-year term would be better, and he was “distressed and disappointed” that a 25-year term had been recommended instead. The period of 25 or 30 years exceeds the life expectancy of everyone on the board, he said. The point for any millage isn’t the total amount of interest that’s paid, but rather the amount that taxpayers must pay on their tax bills. As he pays his taxes this summer, he’ll be looking at the bill – not thinking about how many more years he’ll be paying each millage. He doesn’t care how long because he won’t be here. What’s good for the citizens is the lowest possible payment. That’s true for current taxpayers as well as for those who might not yet be born or who aren’t yet homeowners, but who’ll be paying the millage in 2037 or 2042. They don’t get a vote, but he cares how much they’ll be paying. That’s the board’s responsibility, he said.

Kaplan said the difference in millage rates was minimal – an estimated 0.59 mills for 25 years compared to 0.56 for the longer period. [A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value for a property. For a hypothetical house worth $200,000, with a state equalized value and a taxable value of $100,000, each mill of tax on that property would generate $100 in revenue.] Thirty years is a very long time for a family to pay the tax, she said.

Josie Parker, Margaret Leary

From left: Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker and AADL board president Margaret Leary.

Leary then requested that the board first have a discussion about why they wanted to build a new library, and return to the bond question after that.

Later in the meeting, after a discussion about the rationale for a new library (see below), Surovell moved to amend the motion, changing the bond term to 30 years. The motion was seconded by Rebecca Head.

Barbara Murphy supported the original 25-year term, saying taxpayers would be paying less overall during that period. Surovell argued that virtually no one will be paying the millage for its entire period, “certainly no one in this room,” he added. Murphy joked: “I expect to be here, Mr. Surovell.”

“I wish you all the luck in the world,” Surovell replied. But the fact is that most Americans move every 5-6 years, he said. [Surovell could speak with some authority on real estate issues, as founder and CEO of Edward Surovell Realtors.] Very few homeowners now will be here in 20-30 years. What’s more, many commercial enterprises that will eventually pay the tax haven’t even been built yet, he said, and many people who’ll be paying as homeowners haven’t even been born yet. That’s the principle behind the longer period, he said.

Kaplan said the chart that was provided to the board showed that the library would save $13 million in interest with a 25-year term, compared to a 29-year term. Surovell countered that the library wouldn’t save a penny – it’s not the library that will be saving money, he said, it’s what the citizens will be paying. For most citizens, their period of residence will be shorter than 30 years. The lower annual cost to taxpayers is the most equitable approach, he said, adding that this would be his last word on the matter.

Leary said she’d support Surovell’s amendment, for the reasons he had stated.

Outcome: On a 4-3 vote, the board amended the bond term to 30 years. Voting in favor of the 30-year term were Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Jan Barney Newman and Ed Surovell. Voting against it were Nancy Kaplan, Barbara Murphy and Prue Rosenthal – they wanted to keep the 25-year term.

New Downtown Library: Rationale

Prue Rosenthal, chair of the special facilities committee that recommended building a new structure, led off the discussion with highlights from a six-page memo included in the board’s meeting packet. [.pdf of memo from special facilities committee]

Ann Arbor believes that the library is vital to the community, and wants it to remain at its current location, she said. The library is relevant in providing access to a variety of services and activities – over 600,000 visits were made to the downtown location last year. The current building is well-maintained but “failing fast,” she said. Rosenthal also listed several needs that the current building doesn’t address, including: an auditorium; quiet reading rooms; access to the Ann Arbor News archives; cabling for wifi and other technology; ADA accessibility; a better-designed children’s area; and better configuration to address security concerns.

Rosenthal said the difference in cost between renovating and building new is only about 10%. And a new building would be more efficient to operate, so the library’s operating expenses wouldn’t increase. The library is authorized to collect up to 1.92 mills, but currently levies only a portion of that – 1.55 mills. That’s about $1.6 million annually that the library doesn’t collect, Rosenthal noted. Nor would they need additional staff, she said – though they wouldn’t need to cut staff, either.

Rosenthal concluded by saying that they all want a sustainable library that will make them proud. “Clearly, I feel very strongly about it,” she said.

Board president Margaret Leary asked Ed Surovell to provide some historical context, as the AADL’s longest-serving board member.

The history of the downtown building is a history of need, Surovell began. Increasingly, they have to deal with the limitations of a building that’s 58-59 years old, and that suffers from all kinds of problems – deficiencies in its mechanical systems and elevators, the projected cost of maintenance, and areas that don’t meet ADA requirements, among other things. A 1995 study commissioned by the library – known as the Smith report – indicated that the AADL system needed a new downtown facility and new three new branches, he said. The new branches have been built, but not a new downtown library.

A process to evaluate the downtown building began in earnest about six years ago, he said.

[That process included the 2007 Providence report, which provided an outlook for the downtown facility based on needs over the next 20 years. The report was a collaboration of the Providence Associates Library Planners Consultants, Holzheimer Bolek Architects LLC, Cornerstone Design Inc and O’Neal Construction Inc. Among other information, it provided four options with cost estimates. (.pdf of Providence cost estimate options) In August 2008, the construction firm Skanska prepared another report giving cost estimates to renovate or build. (.pdf of Skanska estimate)]

Surovell said the process included looking at the cost of renovating the building down to its shell, compared to rebuilding. The difference was only about 10%, or $6 million, he said. [That figure is based on Skanska's estimate – $65 million to renovate, or $71 million to build a new structure. Both estimates factored in the cost of moving to temporary locations during construction.] The board felt that for the extra $6 million, they’d be building the library of the future, Surovell said, not trying to repair the past. And there was the strong possibility that a renovation wouldn’t have gotten them what they needed or wanted, he said.

In terms of a new building, Surovell recalled that when they first started talking about the downtown library a few years ago, the context was quite different. The YMCA building was across the street, at the northwest corner of Fifth and William – now it’s a surface parking lot. The underground parking structure on the city-owned lot to the north hadn’t been built. The nearby Blake Transit Center was still years away from being re-engineered, he said. At the time, the area was an architectural wasteland, Surovell said – or at least an architectural Sahara. And that’s still the case, he added. The library is surrounded by parking.

The library has a remarkable opportunity to build a monument, Surovell said – a centerpiece for the city. When the board first decided to pursue a plan to renovate or rebuild the downtown building,  a request for proposals as issued that yielded about 13 submissions, including some from the nation’s most noted architects, he said. They received every conceivable vision about what to put on the site. And while the board still left open the possibility to renovate, nothing in their exploration indicated that renovation was the better course, he said.

In the fall of 2008, Surovell continued, a new U.S. president was elected, the stock market crashed, the bond market self-destructed, and Michigan was in the middle of a full-blown recession. More than that, he said – the state was in a desperate situation, reflecting the national economic crisis. So in late November of 2008, the board made a decision not to move forward with the project, he said.

Betsy Jackson, Prue Rosenthal

Betsy Jackson, left, talks with AADL board member Prue Rosenthal after the board's July 16 meeting. Jackson is working with a group that supports the bond proposal for a new downtown library.

Now, the state and country are out of that crisis, Surovell said, and last year the board decided to start renewing its discussion about the downtown building. [Although the board officially took action to resume the process in November 2011 when they voted to allocate funds for consultants to help with that effort, Surovell had pushed the board to begin even earlier. That push included remarks from Surovell at a February 2010 board retreat.]

The costs are roughly what they were in 2008, Surovell said, and the board consensus still seems to be to move forward.

Nancy Kaplan then gave her perspective as the newest board member, first elected in November 2010. She said she had to read up on the history of the board’s previous work, but she arrived at the same conclusion – to pull apart the building and move out for renovations didn’t seem financially wise, nor did it give them the product they wanted, she said. Kaplan saw this as an exciting investment in the future of the library and the community. After the Nov. 6 vote, there will be additional public engagement because this will be the community’s library, as it is today, she said. The public will have a say in what’s built, she added, so that they’ll feel vested in it and proud when it’s done.

Jan Barney Newman agreed with everything that had been said – it would be wonderful to have an “architectural delight “to be the focus of the city. She noted that she had served as a representative on the library advisory committee when the library had been part of the school system. When the issue of the downtown building came up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she said, the library staff at the time indicated that computers would be a passing fancy, and there wasn’t a concern about wiring for the downtown library. Now it’s clear how important that is, she said.

It’s an awkward building to run, Newman said. Cables are in a room running underneath pipes that are aging and that might leak. It’s too bad that there’s no design yet to show people what could be built, she added, but she feels very committed to the project for all of the reasons that had been stated, especially those related to technology needs.

Barbara Murphy wanted to add some comments about the infrastructure. What’s been said is all true, she noted, but a new library is really needed because the downtown library has become a central community gathering place, with 600,000 people visiting there each year. It’s astonishing how the staff can make do with the existing facility, she said, but they need a building that makes it easy to do things like host large events and performances. They need a place that’s welcoming, not one where people are crammed into corners.

Libraries around the world have been turned into community centers, Murphy said, and that’s happening in Ann Arbor, too. It’s not just cables and bathrooms that are needed – it’s the whole structure and function of the current building that’s wrong, and that ”has to be made right.”

Rebecca Head weighed in next, saying she agreed with everyone about the library’s needs. Like other board members, she didn’t think they could renovate to get what they needed. She said she’s a big sustainability advocate and they looked seriously at renovation, but renovation just isn’t possible. There’s no flexibility in the building and the infrastructure ”is just crummy, to use a sophisticated word,” she joked. Many of the board members would have preferred to renovate if it were possible, “but it’s not,” Head concluded. It would have been a band-aid approach, she said.

Newman spoke again, saying that at a recent public forum about the downtown building, she’d spoken with someone who worked for Quinn Evans Architects, which specializes in restoration projects. That person had told her that building new can be more sustainable in the long-run, because of improvements in building materials and equipment, like heating and cooling systems.

Rosenthal noted that the special facilities committee had talked with O’Neal Construction, which had reviewed the materials and estimates from the initial effort toward building a new facility in 2008. O’Neal had indicated that it’s easier to reuse and recycle material when you’re building new, compared to renovating, she said. Murphy added that documents from 2008 indicated that 75% of anything that’s demolished can be reused or recycled, so only 25% would go to a landfill. She found that very compelling.

Leary observed there’d been a lot of discussion of the current building’s inadequacies. She gave an example of something that can’t be fixed: The need for a raked auditorium. At one point in the past, the board had asked the architect Carl Luckenbach to evaluate where such an auditorium could be added to the current building. The answer was that it can’t be done, she said. There’s a crying need for it, Leary said, and events that need such an auditorium have to be held off-site.

She agreed with others who’d mentioned the library is a community gathering place, and that’s important. The library is a “third place,” she said – a place for people to go when they aren’t at work or home. Our culture is woefully deficient in places where people of all classes can gather, she said. We’re divided into our neighborhoods, schools or places of worship, and it’s important for our democracy to have other places where people can come together. The current building can’t do that in the same way that a new facility could, she said.

Leary then addressed the possibility of voters turning down the bond proposal. If it’s not approved, Plan B is “patch, patch, patch,” she said. The building has experienced equipment failures, like the breakdown of an elevator that was expensive to fix  – and inconvenient while it was being repaired. Each year, more of the operating budget will need to be spent in an “unpredictable, unplannable manner,” she said. And when that money is spent, the building won’t be any better. The current building also can’t be made as energy efficient as a new one, Leary said, and that energy savings would be money that could be spent directly  on services.

Construction costs are still low, Leary continued. She recognized that it’s still a tough time for many families, but waiting won’t get the library to a better position than the one they’re in now, she said.

Leary also mentioned the role that a new library could play in the reinvigoration of downtown. Surovell had mentioned that the area is an architectural wasteland, she noted, but it could be turned into a sparkling, startling example of what the downtown could be like. The building could be a catalyst for other downtown changes. If voters approve the proposal, with public engagement ”we’ll be able to create a stunning addition to the downtown,” Leary concluded.

Surovell pointed out that when the University of Michigan demolished its Frieze Building [at the corner of State and Huron, where the new North Quad is now located], you could see the ghost of the old Carnegie library building – the city’s first public library. The Carnegie building had been abandoned by the public school system when that building wasn’t even as old as the current downtown library is, he said. [The library moved to its current location at 343 S. Fifth in 1958. The original part of the building was designed by Alden B. Dow. (.pdf file of AADL building timeline)]

The current downtown library had been designed to be used partly by the public schools, Surovell noted, which at one point had considered using the facility as its headquarters. [Until 1995, the library was part of the Ann Arbor public school system.] The space on the fourth floor – including a boardroom that’s still used for meetings of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees, as well as the library board – is underutilized, he said, and can’t be utilized, because of its configuration.

Surovell concluded by stating that they need a new library, and he looked forward to an affirmative vote from the board, and an affirmative vote from the citizens in November.

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to put a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot.

New Downtown Library: Special Meeting – Ballot Language

The board was asked to vote on setting a special meeting on Monday, July 30 at 7 p.m. to approve ballot language for the bond proposal. The board’s understanding of the deadline for certifying ballot language was Aug. 14.

Ballot proposals must be 100 words or less and written as a yes/no question. The requirements are specified in the Michigan Home Rule City Act (Act 279 of 1909): The ballot language is set forth by the District Library Financing Act (Public Act 265 of 1988), which must be substantially in the following form: 

Shall the district library, formed by ________ county[ies] of ________, State of Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed ________ dollars ($________) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds for all or a portion of that amount for the purpose of ________?
Yes [ ] No [ ]

Coming up with the wording is not easy, Margaret Leary said. The library will consult with a bond expert and legal counsel, she said. “We want the language to be absolutely right.”

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to schedule a special meeting on Monday, July 30 at 7 p.m. for the purpose of approving ballot language. The meeting will be held in the fourth floor conference room of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth.

New Downtown Library: Special Facilities Committee

Margaret Leary presented a resolution amending the charge to the special facilities committee. The board had voted to form the committee in April of 2012. The original charge was to gather information and make a recommendation to the board about AADL’s facilities, including but not limited to a review of information that was collected in the past regarding the condition of the downtown building.

The amended charge included several additional responsibilities:

a) to continue its work of gathering information about the condition of the downtown facility; and

b) making recommendations to the Board concerning the details of implementing any bond the Board may choose to put before the voters; and

c) to recommend a process for taking the next steps should any bond proposal be approved; and

d) to recommend measures needed to maintain the existing building should a bond to replace the downtown facility fail to pass.

The committee members would serve through 2012 and remain the same three members – Prue Rosenthal (chair), Nancy Kaplan and Ed Surovell.

Leary said it’s important for the public to know “who’s doing what” related to the new building. A lot of decisions will need to be made between now and the election, and planning can be done to prepare for the next steps if the bond passes. If the bond fails, someone will need to oversee a Plan B – the “decline and fall of the current building,” she said – and to make sure it’s maintained to be as safe as possible.

Surovell said if he had written the resolution, he would have left out the “what ifs.” Typically, if a bond proposal fails, the next step is to review your options, which might mean scaling back the proposal in another attempt to get it passed. You don’t automatically go to Plan B. He said he believed the bond proposal would pass. If it doesn’t, their next steps will depend on whether it fails with only 49% of the vote, or if it fails with 80% of voters rejecting it.

Leary said she wouldn’t strongly defend her wording, but she had wanted to ensure that it’s clear how responsibility is being assigned. She noted that the board can dissolve the committee at any time, or amend its responsibilities again. ”You know how I am,” she joked. “I just like to know what’s coming next – the illusion of control.”

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to amend the charge for the special facilities committee.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman, AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations, gave a brief financial update to the board at the July 16 meeting. He noted that the report – for the period through June 30, the end of AADL’s fiscal year – were pre-audit figures. Auditors are coming in early September, he said.

Library’s cash balance stood at $7.929 million, and 99.8% of its budgeted tax receipts for the year ($11.145 million) had been received. Nieman noted that the library has received about $155,000 less in tax revenues than had been budgeted. Part of that is tax receipts that haven’t been received yet, but most of it relates to refunds given as a result of tax tribunal decisions. The state’s tax tribunal handles appeals regarding property tax assessments and other tax disputes. AADL had budgeted $75,000 for tax refunds, but the figure ended up being over $200,000, he said. Last month, he had told the board that tax refunds would be closer to $150,000 for the year.

[A similar situation occurred in the previous fiscal year. At the board's June 2011 meeting, Nieman reported that the library had budgeted to give about $50,000 in tax refunds in fiscal 2011 – refunds that AADL would need to pay primarily due to the outcome of appeals at tax tribunals, or in some cases related to property foreclosures. However, that amount ended up being significantly higher – nearly $194,000. In previous years, $50,000 had been more than enough to cover refunds. ]

AADL showed a surplus of $410,945 as of June 30, with an undesignated fund balance of $8.245 million. [.pdf of June 2012 financial report]

Director’s Report

AADL director Josie Parker reported on several awards and recognitions that the library had recently received, including an honorable mention from the American Library Association for outstanding PR efforts, related to last year’s Ben Franklin exhibit. The library also was awarded the “best story hour” by Ann Arbor Family magazine. Parker noted that if there’s one thing that never changes, it’s telling stories to children.

Parker also highlighted the recent Kids Read Comics event held at the downtown library, which drew the most people that the building has ever held at one time on a Saturday, she said. Parker added that she was pleased about the event as a library director but also as a children’s librarian. At her first job as a children’s librarian 17 years ago, she said she got into trouble because she encouraged kids to read comic books as part of the summer reading program – at the time, she had to defend that decision. “Reading is reading is reading – and we’re about that,” she said.

Parker also showed the board a gift she’d been given by someone who attended the Kids Read Comics event: Two issues of “Josie and the Pussycats.”

Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Next special meeting: Monday, July 30, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The meeting will focus on approving ballot language for the Nov. 6 $65 million bond proposal. The board’s next regular meeting is on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. in the same location. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. By TJ
    July 22, 2012 at 9:37 pm | permalink

    The “Kids Read Comics” mini-convention is a good example of how popular events have to be shoehorned into the building. We went and had a great time, but the Artists’ Alley on the third floor was almost claustrophobically crowded at times and quite hot. Granted, it was over 100F outside, but a decent HVAC infrastructure should have been able to keep up. And since the multipurpose room in the basement was needed for other KRC workshops, there was no other place to put the artists.

  2. By Walter Cramer
    July 23, 2012 at 6:12 am | permalink

    Switching from 25-year to 30-year bonds sounds like classic “kick the can down the road” government decision making. Whoever is paying, the ~$13 million in additional interest will be Ann Arbor residents’ money that is paid to mostly-distant bond investors, and thus lost by our community. And 25 years from now, we’ll have a 5-year period when a no-longer-new downtown library won’t be paid for, but will have plenty of maintenance and upgrade needs.

    But in 25 years, the people making the decision today will have passed on, moved on, or at least be out of office – so why care about the future, eh?

  3. July 23, 2012 at 8:36 am | permalink

    If half the current building is only 21 years old and is obsolete, “falling down” and “failing fast,” does that mean we’ll be paying off the bonds for another nine years after the new building becomes obsolete and starts falling down?

  4. By sally m
    July 23, 2012 at 9:33 am | permalink

    Few people have attended these public forums about the library. That suggests the library is not the public gathering place the library board would wish it to be.

  5. By Eric
    July 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm | permalink

    The people who want to squander the tax payers money on this white elephant say they need space for meetings. By the time it gets built physical gatherings to keep the minutes and lose the hours will probably be as passe as paper books. Haven’t they heard about video conferencing — virtual reality — conference calls? Vastly cheaper and more convenient. Plug in your web camera and do the “meeting” while cruising down the freeway, “meeting” with one hand, cell phone in the other, hopefully Google will be doing the driving. As the software improves you will be able to tweak your presented image a bit, look less old and fat and still alert while dozing off. Do the “meeting” while on the toilet, poop in, poop out.

  6. By Scratchigmyhead
    July 24, 2012 at 7:35 am | permalink

    I still have net been convinced that the construction of a new library is needed. It seems that the Library Board in developing their survey really clouded the issues by giving responding the option of renovation or new construction at the 65 million dollar option. Of course given the two options with the same cost responders are going to support something new. I think this was very deceptive by the board. To use the argument about the need to have a “raked auditorium.” What’s the need for a raked auditorium? As for the argument that the downtown library will serve as a meeting place, with the cost of parking, I’m not sure that I would be tempted to attend meetings at the downtown library. As for the argument that the library can serve as as catalyst for other developments downtown I’m being assessed a millage and then I got to pay to attend a meeting at the Library! How do the staff calculate the 600,000 annual patrons? Are these figures based on singular visits or are they based on multi-counts. Many of the daily patrons are from the shelter, which is ok with me but I think this figure may not be an accurate one for the argument the board is trying to make. From what I read so far, I’m not convinced that a new library is needed. That library probably be underutilized within five years of the completion of its construction and the library board and community will be left trying to figure out how to make it a relevant part of Ann Arbor.

  7. By Nelson
    July 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm | permalink

    IIRC, the three new buildings were built without bonds, that is, with existing funds. So AADL neglected its central location to give priority to building new buildings. That can only be explained two ways. The AADL being incompetent, or purposefully allowing the central location to go into disrepair to create this need for a new building.

  8. By Mary Morgan
    July 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    Re. “the three new buildings were built without bonds, that is, with existing funds.”

    Three new branch libraries – Malletts Creek, Pittsfield and Traverwood – were funded with a total of $24 million in revenues generated from the existing operating millage. To do that, the board raised its millage to 1.92 mills – the highest amount that AADL is authorized by voters to levy. [The original millage approved by voters in 1996, when the library spun off from the public school system, was actually 2.0 mills. That amount has gradually been rolled back due to the Headlee Amendment, which was passed by the state legislature and was intended to offset property assessment increases.]

    When those three branches were completed, the AADL board dropped the amount that it levies to 1.55 mills, starting in July of 2009. That is the current amount that taxpayers pay to the AADL. The millage rate is set annually – and therefore, could change – as part of the AADL budget process. Budgets are typically approved in May, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

  9. By Steve Bean
    July 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    @2: “Whoever is paying, the ~$13 million in additional interest will be Ann Arbor residents’ money that is paid to mostly-distant bond investors, and thus lost by our community.”

    Exactly. Surovell has apparently drunk the realtor make-the-sale kool aid. The extra $3 average annual difference in property taxes between the two options (would he really notice that, even if his house is worth 10x the average?) is likely less than most households pay in late fees at the library. Kaplan was incorrect that a shorter term would save the library money, but that doesn’t make Surovell’s case stronger.

    That said, property values are still inflated. The board was wise to postpone as long as it has. Let’s get by with what we have for yet a few more years and let things bottom out before committing to any new construction and more long-term debt. (I also doubt that bonds issued early next year would get 5%–unless the rating dropped between now and then.)

  10. By Lyn Davidge
    July 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm | permalink

    Re: 600,000 annual visitors to Downtown. I believe this is a door count using an automatic tally device. At least, that’s how it was done when I worked there up until a few years ago. Perhaps someone from the Library will see this and confirm or correct me. So if one person enters the Downtown library in the morning, leaves and comes back for an evening program s/he is counted as 2 for that day. Assuming I enter the West Branch every two weeks, which is about right, I would count as 26 on the West Branch tally over the course of a year. It would be interesting to know how many individuals are represented by the 600,000, but in terms of building issues I would think that’s a less relevant figure.

    As noted in the article, there’s lots of info. about the proposed building project on the Library website and questions / comments directed to “downtown at aadl.org” are posted and responded to by the Director.

  11. By David Diephuis
    July 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm | permalink

    One of the implied arguements for a new library has been that the downtown facility is so busy it can’t efficiently handle the demand. But the numbers suggest that compared to the Library branches the downtown flagship is one of the least busy in the system.

    In fiscal year 2010 the downtown library saw 649,000 (rounded to nearest thousand) patrons come through it’s doors while the branches had a combined 1,119,000 visitors.

    In 2011 the downtown had 590,000 patrons visit and the branches had 1,146,000 patrons visit.

    So, in 2011, the downtown library had 34% of the total patrons of the system. Compared to the relative size of the branches that seems to be far less than what would be expected.

    Downtown Library-----------113,850 sq feet
    Malletts Creek Branch-------14,000 sq feet
    Traverwood Branch-----------16,500 sq feet
    Pittsfield Branch-----------14,600 sq feet
    West Branch------------------5,900 sq feet

    Even if we discount a substanial portion of the Downtown Library’s space because of it’s unique administrative and storage functions as well as it it’s large and aging mechanical rooms, the Downtown Library still has over half all the available patron space in the Library System and probably is between 55% and 65% of the whole.

    Yet it only handles 30% of all internet sessions, 32% of total checkouts, and 34% of all Library visitors.

    Many factors could be causing this discrepancy occurring at the downtown building…..length of stay by patrons, different focus, ie. more programming events, collections that consume space but aren’t widely used, etc.

    However, without further information, the numbers just on their face suggest to me that the branches are where the action is, and thus may deserve a greater allocation of resources.

  12. July 30, 2012 at 8:24 am | permalink

    I’m still confused as to how the $26 million estimate for renovation in 2007 turned into $65 million. The main difference seems to be the addition of another 40,000 square feet. At the Providence high estimate of $350 per square foot, that would add $14 million to the $26 million estimate for a total of $40 million. Any other possible increases, for example move-in and increases in construction cost, would also effect the new construction estimate, which only went from $63 to $71 despite a similar increase in size. The Skansa report does not include any detail.

  13. By Lyn Davidge
    July 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm | permalink

    The Library Board meets tonight, July 30, at 7 in a special meeting to approve ballot language for the bond issue. There is a place on the agenda for Citizen Comments. I hope more people will start attending Library Board meetings and offering their various questions, ideas and opinions during the Comment portion. I believe that our elected officials need to hear from more real, live people in addition to all the faceless and sometimes anonymous electronic input they receive.

  14. By David Diephuis
    July 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm | permalink

    @12: Comparing the 2007 Providence Study with the 2008 Skanska estimates is difficult because of the different levels of detail.

    A couple of thoughts—-The Providence study has no allowance costs for an interim library facility, moving in and out, architect and other professional fees ($6M-$7M), technology costs, various city fees including street closure costs (will they be closing part or all of Fifth Ave. or William?), etc.

    Also, the Providence Study for the complete reconstruction option envisioned an underground parking component at a cost of almost $20M. (They thought they could get 400 spaces for that amount of money)

    Both Providence and Skanska had similar estimates per square foot for just the actual new construction part of the total cost. ….$334 per sq ft for the Skanska study and a high range estimate of $353 for the Providence study. But Skanska added an additional $111 per sq ft for the expense types I mention above, while Providence had an extra $163 per sq ft budgeted for the parking.

    As for the renovation and remodel option (tearing down some of the building and leaving some the earlier additions) I think the Skanska study allocates about $303 per sq ft for actual construction while Providence has a high range cost of about $209 per sq ft. The difference may be due to the extra new square footage envisioned by the Skanska estimate, about 38,000 more than the Providence study. And again, Skanska adds in over $100 per sq ft for those other costs, which Providence doesn’t address.

    I’m not sure this helps, but your question inspired me to take a closer look at the two separate studies.

    I wish Skanska had provided an estimate for a renovation only option.