Library Wary of Downtown Park Proposal

Ann Arbor library board responds to recent recommendation for park at Library Lot site; also, more questions posed about State Street corridor improvement authority, but no decision yet over opting out

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Oct. 21, 2013): Expressing concerns over the possible addition of a downtown park on the city-owned Library Lot site – adjacent to the downtown library – AADL trustees discussed but took no formal action related to a recent recommendation of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Library Lot, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

View looking north toward the city-owned Library Lot, taken from the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library building. (Photos by the writer.)

The idea for a new park was among several recommendations approved by the commission at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, to be forwarded to the city council for consideration. The AADL was specifically mentioned in the Library Lot recommendation: “In order to adequately address issues of safety and security, the Ann Arbor District Library must also be strongly represented in the planning process.”

AADL director Josie Parker stressed that neither she nor board president Prue Rosenthal had indicated that the library is in any way capable of advising the city regarding security and safety of a park. They had attended a meeting of the downtown park subcommittee, she said, and had related the library’s experiences regarding a range of security issues at the downtown building. Parker reported that so far in 2013, the library has made police requests to its downtown building on average every 3.5 days.

Trustees generally expressed caution and noted that many questions remained about whether a downtown park at that location would be viable, without adequate oversight and additional development. Parker planned to relay the board’s concerns to the park advisory commission.

Another major item of discussion at the Oct. 21 meeting related to Pittsfield Township’s proposed State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services for Pittsfield Township, and Dick Carlisle of Carlisle Wortman Associates were on hand to answer questions, as was CIA board member Claudia Kretschmer of Gym America. Trustees asked a range of questions, covering other financing options, the process for receiving federal funds, and the procedure for opting out of this new tax increment financing (TIF) authority.

If the board decides that AADL will opt out, a resolution would need to be passed. Taxing entities have a 60-day period in which to make an opt-out decision. That period began with an Oct. 9 public hearing held by the Pittsfield Township board, and will end in early December. The only AADL board meeting currently scheduled before then is on Nov. 11.

In its one main action item on Oct. 21, the board authorized a $40,000 adjustment to AADL’s 2013-14 budget to cover costs of repairs and testing of the downtown library roof. The adjustment transfers $40,000 from the library’s fund balance to the repair and maintenance line item. According to the most recent financial report, the library had a fund balance of $8.03 million as of Sept. 30, 2013.

During her director’s report, Parker highlighted some of the niche services that the library provides – such as hosting a Minecraft server and a recent Oculus Rift Hackathon. She said she wanted the board to think about the things that go beyond just lending books – services that are important to some but completely irrelevant to others. “The combination of it all is what makes the Ann Arbor District Library the amazing library system that we all know it is,” Parker said. “It’s the sum of all these parts, not one aspect or service.”

During committee reports, Nancy Kaplan noted that the communications committee hopes to receive a report later this month from Allerton-Hill Consulting to review. The consultants were hired earlier this year to conduct a communications audit for the library – a move that’s been criticized by some residents who believe the work is positioning AADL for another bond proposal to build a new downtown library.

For the first time in several months, no one spoke during public commentary at the board meeting.

Library Lot Park

Added to the agenda at the start of the Oct. 21 meeting was an item to discuss recent recommendations made by the city’s park advisory commission.

Prue Rosenthal, Josie Parker, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL board president Prue Rosenthal and director Josie Parker.

By way of background, a subcommittee of the commission has been meeting since early 2013 to explore the possibilities for a new downtown park. They delivered a set of recommendations to the full commission at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting. After minor amendments, the commission approved those recommendations, which will be forwarded to the city council. [.pdf of full subcommittee report]

The eight recommendations of PAC’s downtown park subcommittee are wide-ranging, but include a site-specific recommendation to develop a new park/open space area on the top of the Library Lot underground parking structure. Now a surface parking lot, the site is owned by the city and is situated just north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building. The recommendation calls for only a portion of the site to be used for a new park/open space, and stresses that AADL should be involved in the planning process.

Specifically, that recommendation states:

8. Based on the aforementioned criteria, the Downtown Parks Subcommittee recommends that a park/open space be developed on the Library Lot that takes advantage of the flexibility offered through temporary closures of Library Lane. The size of this space should exceed the proposed allocated open space in the Connecting William Street study (5,000 square feet). However, the subcommittee is strongly in favor of a mixed-use vision for the Library Lot that utilizes the city’s investment in development-ready foundation and infrastructure. Development of the site and adjacent parcels, including the accompanying increases in activity, is essential for the future success of this site. In order to adequately address issues of safety and security, the Ann Arbor District Library must also be strongly represented in the planning process.

At the AADL board’s Oct. 21 meeting, director Josie Parker told trustees that she had asked for this agenda item to be added, because she thought that the park advisory commission report warranted a statement from the library. Earlier this year, Parker and board president Prue Rosenthal had been invited to attend a subcommittee meeting. They had shared that the downtown library employs four full-time security staff to deal with issues related to security, drug use, alcohol use, loitering and aggressive behavior between patrons, Parker said. No one has been aggressive to the staff to date, she added.

Parker and Rosenthal had told the subcommittee that they had concerns about adding a large open space adjacent to the downtown library. They also said that in concept, it sounds like a park would complement the library, but without continuous security, a high level of maintenance, and continuous programming, they were concerned that the space would “create a venue for behavioral issues we currently experience on a daily basis at the library,” Parker told the board. “We stand by that statement today.”

Parker reported that so far in 2013, the library makes police requests to its downtown building on average every 3.5 days. “That is relatively frequent,” she said.

While she appreciates the interest that the park commission is showing for the public library, Parker stressed that she and Rosenthal did not intend to indicate that the AADL is in any way capable of advising the city regarding security and safety of a park.

Barbara Murphy referred to a different section of the report that discusses problems with the Library Lot site. It states:

Placemaking principles raise a number of concerns regarding the Library Lot site. Currently, the space is poorly activated, facing the backs of buildings on Liberty, William and Division Streets, Fifth Street traffic, and the windowless side of the Library. This lack of eyes on the space raises a number of concerns regarding safety and the promotion of positive behavior. A sizeable park space in this location would require significant financial investment for enhanced security, daily maintenance, and staff dedicated to year-round programming.

The subcommittee’s own comments about the site lay out all the problems, Murphy noted. “It’s almost as if they’re saying it would be a good idea, but we can’t do it for all these reasons.”

Parker said she couldn’t speak for anyone at the city, but she wanted to make it very clear that she and Rosenthal did not intend to give the impression that the library would be able to give advice on safety and security in a public park.

Margaret Leary observed that there was a lot she could say about this report, but she wanted to keep her remarks focused on the library. In the past, when the library has been involved with discussions about the underground parking structure, library officials have clearly said that what should be located at the site is a very active, completely developed set of activities that would generate a lot of street traffic, 24/7. It needs to be controlled by someone – whether the police or the property owner – but it should be well taken care of, Leary said. To designate it as a park “seems to be putting the cart before the horse” before resolving the question of what else will be located there, she said.

Leary also wanted to know what the police experiences are in Liberty Plaza – the existing park at the southwest corner of Liberty and Division. Why isn’t the city fixing Liberty Plaza before developing a new park? How much will a new park cost, and who’ll pay for it? Which existing parks will suffer if resources are shifted to a new park? “I just think there are a lot of questions,” Leary said.

She added that she couldn’t find an answer in the report to the question of whether there should be more downtown parks. There wasn’t much of an analysis of that question, she said, unless you count the 1,608 people – out of the roughly 116,000 residents of Ann Arbor – who responded to a survey “that was only known about by people who wanted a park there, pretty much.” The survey appears to be the basis for the entire recommendation, Leary said, when in fact there are a lot of other ways that opinions could have been gathered.

Barbara Murphy, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

AADL trustee Barbara Murphy.

Jan Barney Newman said she couldn’t agree more with Leary, and that she didn’t know how to respond – other than to state that the library isn’t equipped to give advice regarding park security. Newman said she had talked to one of her neighbors who had been very enthusiastic about a park at the Library Lot site. But when Newman enumerated the problems that could likely occur, she said her neighbor changed her mind. Newman joked that unfortunately, she couldn’t talk to all 1,608 people who took the survey. The board needs to figure out how to communicate that this isn’t a productive use of the space, she said.

Nancy Kaplan said the report indicated that a downtown park should be publicly and privately financed, with buildings around it to have eyes on the site. There’s definitely concern that the responsibility for safety and well-being, and things like the use of bathrooms, should not belong to the library, she said. “This report is a start, but it’s only a start – and it raises many, many questions.”

A lot of work needs to be done, Kaplan added, but a large percentage of people who took the survey did indicate they’d like to see a downtown park.

Newman responded, saying that the idea for Library Lot had been to develop it, with a park as part of a development. “It was not to have a park, then hope that you could find a commercial entity to be responsible for it,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Kaplan felt it should happen at the same time – with development as part of any park on the site.

Rebecca Head said she didn’t see the recommendations as being strong. The park commission did the best that they could, she said, but she feared that people would cherry-pick exactly the recommendation that they wanted – rather than to take the set of recommendations and caveats as a whole. “It’s not clear here,” she said.

Murphy thought the report wasn’t asking the library for security advice, but was just acknowledging that the library should be consulted as part of the planning process, whenever that might happen. She added that she wasn’t worried about anything happening soon. “It’s Ann Arbor,” she said.

Rosenthal thought the recommendations were ambiguous, “and I think it’s fair enough on our part to be wary of it.”

Leary pointed out that it’s not the library’s responsibility to figure out how to plan a park on that site. She wasn’t sure it was good for AADL staff to spend time on it “because it’s not our problem.”

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Responding to a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Parker indicated that she’d be contacting Ingrid Ault, chair of the park advisory commission who also chaired the downtown park subcommittee, to communicate the board’s reaction to this report.

Pittsfield State Street Corridor Improvement Authority

Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services for Pittsfield Township, and Dick Carlisle of Carlisle Wortman Associates attended the Oct. 21 meeting to answer questions about the township’s proposed corridor improvement authority (CIA) for State Street, south of Ann Arbor. They had made a presentation about the project at the board’s Sept. 16, 2013 meeting. The CIA would entail capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including the Ann Arbor District Library.

The new authority is expected to help fund roughly $30 million in improvements on State Street over 20 years, roughly between Ellsworth Road and Michigan Avenue. The intent is to create a four-lane boulevard with a median, bike lanes and pedestrian pathways.

The library’s Pittsfield branch is located in the township, and a portion of the AADL district is included in the northern part of the proposed CIA. Under the CIA’s tax increment financing (TIF) plan, 50% of the increase in taxable value would be captured over a 20-year period to fund the CIA projects. The captured taxes would otherwise go to the entities that levy those taxes. Currently, AADL receives about $8,536 in taxes from taxpayers in the proposed CIA boundaries.

Dick Carlisle, Claudia Kretschmer, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dick Carlisle, a planning consultant for Pittsfield Township, and Claudia Kretschmer of Gym America. Kretschmer also serves on the board of the State Street corridor improvement authority.

In introducing the topic on Oct. 21, AADL director Josie Parker reported that she attended a recent CIA board meeting as well as the Oct. 9 public hearing held by the Pittsfield Township board of trustees. That hearing started the 60-day period during which taxing authorities in the proposed CIA have the opportunity to opt out.

Lyon introduced a CIA board member who also attended the Oct. 21 meeting: Claudia Kretschmer, founder and co-owner of Gym America. Kretschmer described Gym America, located at 4611 Platt Road, as a gymnastics school that has been in business for 34 years. They’re looking to expand and move to a location on Hines Drive off State Street. The school currently has about 700 students with another 200 on a waiting list. So they expect about 900 to 1,000 students when they open their new facility, she said.

The school will add a lot of traffic to State Street, she said, and the bulk of their business is at 4:30-5 p.m. Kretschmer noted that a lot of instructors are University of Michigan students, who would be able to ride the bus to Gym America when it’s located on State Street, after improvements are made. She also highlighted the competitions that are held by the school, which draw even more people to that area. The competitions are typically held at Saline High School.

Barbara Murphy asked if Gym America would be moving to Hines Drive if the CIA didn’t happen. It’s definitely a factor in choosing that location, Kretschmer replied. They haven’t yet closed the deal, she said. Other options include less expensive property in a more industrial location. No matter what, the school will expand, she said. They’ve been asked to consider locating to the Jackson Road area, and there’s more land available on that side of town, she said. But they want to stay in Pittsfield Township, because they’ve invested a lot in that community.

Lyon said that township officials have been asked why they need a TIF. He described it as a regional effort. The students who attend Gym America, for example, aren’t only coming from Pittsfield Township, he noted. They’re coming from all around Washtenaw County and beyond. Carlisle added that Kretschmer’s experience isn’t unique. In the State Street area, there are 40 companies that employ about 5,000 people. That’s a significant employment based for local residents, he said.

“We’ve been presenting this as a road project, but it’s really much more than that,” Carlisle said. “It’s really an economic development project that’s being facilitated by the improvement of road infrastructure.” He noted that improvements along the Jackson Road corridor in Scio Township brought a great deal of economic development to the township, school district and county at large – a more than 300% increase in taxable value since 1990. That’s the same thing that Pittsfield Township is trying to do, he said.

Pittsfield State Street CIA: Board Discussion – Opting Out

Jan Barney Newman asked if all the other taxing authorities have decided whether to be involved. [The jurisdictions that collect taxes within the CIA boundaries are: Pittsfield Township, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County parks & recreation, Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority (metro parks), Washtenaw Community College, Saline District Library, and Ann Arbor District Library.]

None of the other entities have dropped out, Carlisle replied. He noted that the county board of commissioners gave initial approval to join the CIA at their Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, with a final vote expected on Nov. 6. The WCC board hasn’t made a decision, Lyon reported, and will be discussing it at their first meeting in November.

Josie Parker asked how the formal opt-out process works. Carlisle said that passing a board resolution would be sufficient. That must be done with 60 days, starting with the Oct. 9 public hearing. So the last day to opt out would be Dec. 9.

Margaret Leary wondered what the Saline District Library has decided to do. Carlisle reported that the library board hasn’t made a formal opt-out decision at this point.

Pittsfield State Street CIA: Board Discussion – Funding Options

Nancy Kaplan wondered what other funding options are available. Lyon characterized other options as “few and far between.” A city like Ann Arbor receives Act 51 funds, which are generated by the state’s gas tax. Townships don’t receive those funds, he said. Townships rely solely on the county road commission.

Margaret Leary, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

AADL trustee Margaret Leary.

For major expansion projects like the State Street effort – increasing from two lanes to four lanes, adding bike lanes and pedestrian amenities – the federal government gets involved, which would generally fund 80% of the project, along with a 20% local match. Pittsfield Township approached the road commission and asked if the road commission’s Act 51 dollars could be used for a local match, Lyon said. But the road commission decided not to participate.

In 2005, the state legislature created the CIA as a mechanism for funding regional projects like the State Street improvements, Lyon explained.

Kaplan said she understood that Walmart had paid for road improvements near its new store in Pittsfield Township. Has there been any thought of asking companies that will directly benefit from these improvements to kick in? Lyon noted that one reason why the CIA improvements aren’t going all the way to Michigan Avenue is that improvements there have already been made. The road commission required traffic studies from both Walmart and Costco, located on Ellsworth, and ultimately required those businesses to make improvements in the road infrastructure. Costco, for example, was required to fund a portion of the roundabout at State and Ellsworth. Looking ahead, traffic studies for new development will continue to be required, he said, and that might result in additional road improvement funding.

Carlisle noted that the township isn’t trying to attract retail businesses along the State Street corridor. Companies like Walmart and Costco are looking for locations near population centers, and are generally willing to pay a reasonable amount to get their projects at those sites. But the kinds of businesses in the corridor are those that are being recruited by other Michigan communities and states, he said – research, industrial and high-tech companies that could easily go somewhere else, if the environment is more attractive. So other forms of financing, like a special assessment district (SAD), would be a disincentive for companies to locate there, he said. It would also be difficult to use a SAD because you have to prove that the cost is proportional to the benefits that a particular parcel receives. Another factor is that many parcels – about 40% of the corridor – are currently vacant, he noted.

The library would benefit from improvements to the taxable value of land in the corridor, Carlisle pointed out, while not having to provide additional services – because the development would not be primarily residential. “It’s a potential windfall for some of the special taxing jurisdictions, such as libraries and county parks,” he said.

Leary wondered why a bond couldn’t be used to fund the project. Carlisle noted that there has to be a way to pay off the bond. The township wouldn’t be able to take out a general obligation bond, he said, because it wouldn’t make sense for them “to pay the whole freight.” Leary questioned that response: “They wouldn’t do it? Or it wouldn’t make sense?” It’s doubtful that the township could do it, Carlisle replied – because the township likely wouldn’t have the resources to bond against its general obligations.

However, when the CIA is in place, there might be the opportunity to bond against TIF revenues, he said. But it would need to be structured to ensure that the bonds could be paid off.

Parker posed a scenario in which TIF funding occurs, but the federal funding isn’t secured. Would the township bond against the TIF in anticipation of federal funding? Lyon said the current approach is to make the improvements in a phased approach over 20 years, using the TIF funds that are available, with a construction phase every 5-7 years. Bonding would make the overall expense of this project much greater, he pointed out, because of additional interest costs. So even with low-interest bonds of 3-4%, you’d end up spending almost double the cost of the project. Limiting the bonding is a preferred approach, he said.

Parker wondered when the township will know whether the federal funding is being awarded. Lyon said the township recently received approval from the state for a FONSI (finding of no significant impact). Carlisle explained that this means the federal government has signed off on an environmental assessment, which found that these proposed improvements won’t affect the environment. “That’s a huge step toward securing federal road funding,” he said. It’s not a slam-dunk, he added, but it’s now in the queue for funding.

Ann Arbor District Library, Pittsfield Township, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A view showing the northern portion of the proposed corridor improvement authority (CIA) for State Road in Pittsfield Township, starting at the I-94 interchange. The red parcels indicate land that’s developed. Yellow parcels are undeveloped land. (Image links to .pdf file showing entire corridor boundaries.)

Lyon reported that when the township applies for federal funds, it will be asked about the revenue source for local matching funds. That’s when it will be important to show that the township has a CIA structure in place and money in the bank, he said. Securing federal funds could happen quickly, or it could take several years, he noted.

Parker asked what would be a reasonable time to wait for federal funding, before deciding to dissolve the CIA and refund the TIF money to the taxing jurisdictions. Lyon said that if nothing is done in the first 10 years, township officials will have to look at why the project isn’t moving forward. But all indicators show that the funding will likely be available, he said.

Carlisle felt there was a lot of momentum for this project. Ann Arbor SPARK has endorsed it, and the road commission has made a major commitment – even though it isn’t investing directly, he said. The roundabout at State and Ellsworth was essentially the first phase of this project, he said. Carlisle added that he’d be very surprised if they didn’t have at least initial funding lined up in 5-6 years.

Lyon noted that an annual report will be provided to the CIA board, the township board of trustees, and to each taxing jurisdiction. So each year they’ll review the status of the work.

Leary wondered if the state enabling legislation put any limit on the time that can pass before securing federal funding. Not beyond the sunset date in the plan, Carlisle said – a 20-year timeframe, through 2033.

Parker said the AADL’s concern is that the plan could result in the township banking TIF funds for 20 years, even if the road improvements don’t occur.

Lyon said he’s never seen a project like this not get funded. Carlisle added that the township could provide assurance that they will apply for federal funding. If the library board is looking for next steps in terms of providing federal funding, the township could provide that, he said. But they can’t provide assurances about when the funding might be secured.

Pittsfield State Street CIA: Board Discussion – Other Issues

Leary wondered how this project would be coordinated with Ann Arbor South State Street corridor plan, which was recently added to the city’s master plan. [.pdf of State Street corridor plan] Carlisle and Lyon indicated that aspects of the work – such as non-motorized paths – will line up with similar improvements in Ann Arbor’s portion of State Street. The township and city coordinate regularly, Carlisle said. He noted that there are coordinated planning provisions under Michigan law that require the sharing of planning documents. The two jurisdictions are also among the four entities that are working on Washtenaw Avenue improvements. Lyon reported that the roundabout at State and Ellsworth required coordination among Pittsfield Township, Ann Arbor and the county road commission.

Kaplan cited Carlisle’s comments about the increase in taxable value along Jackson Road. She wondered what Pittsfield Township was expecting. Lyon replied that the township is estimating a 250% increase in taxable value. The Jackson Road corridor improvements resulted in a 375% increase. All of the Pittsfield Township projections have been conservative, he said. Carlisle added that you don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver.

Kaplan also asked about tax abatements that are given to some businesses in Pittsfield Township. She noted that she had attended the township board meeting when the public hearing was held, and other agenda items included awarding tax abatements. Carlisle confirmed that when abatements are awarded, that results in less money for the CIA. He said this is a discussion that the township officials are having – the impact of abatements on the CIA. “It would ultimately be counterproductive for this,” he said.

Rebecca Head asked about the Ann Arbor airport: Would that contribute to the CIA? Lyon noted that the airport isn’t part of the CIA because as public land, no property taxes are paid on that property.

Barbara Murphy noted that there’s been a lot of talk about expanding the airport. How would that impact the plans for the CIA? Carlisle didn’t think it would be an issue, in part because it’s not possible to expand the airport toward State Street, where the CIA boundaries would be affected.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

2013-14 Budget Adjustment

The AADL board was asked to authorize a $40,000 adjustment to AADL’s 2013-14 budget to cover costs of repairs and testing of the downtown library roof.

The adjustment transfers $40,000 from the library’s fund balance to the repair and maintenance line item. According to the most recent financial report, the library had a fund balance of $8.03 million as of Sept. 30, 2013. The line item for repairs and maintenance that was approved as part of the 2013-14 was $302,000 for the entire fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2013. The board approved the budget at its May 6, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of 2013-14 budget summary]

Jan Barney Newman, Ann Arbor District Library

AADL trustee Jan Barney Newman.

Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations, reminded the board that during budget discussions, they’d talked about using reserves for any big projects that might emerge during the year. It would be possible to pay for it out of the current budgeted line item for repair and maintenance, he said, but later in the year the library would likely deplete that budgeted amount and need to return to the board for a budget adjustment anyway.

Three repairs need to be completed before the winter, he said. The canopy over the entryway needs work, as does the roof that transitions between the second and third floors. Also, some metal work needs to be done on the atrium over the stairwell. The contractor would return in the spring to do more work, including tests to check the condition of the entire roof.

In response to a question from Prue Rosenthal, Nieman said the roof over the newest portion of the building was put on in 1990. Portions over other parts of the building are likely older. Margaret Leary said she thought it made sense to do the work now.

Repair and maintenance of the downtown facility has been an issue at recent meetings. At the board’s meeting on Aug. 19, 2013, Leary reported that the board’s facilities committee had given AADL director Josie Parker the go-ahead to get cost estimates for renovating the entry of the downtown library, including replacement of the front doors. It’s not yet clear if the project would require board approval.

The library board and administration had hoped to build a new downtown library, but a bond proposal to fund that project was defeated by voters in November 2012.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the budget adjustment.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman – the library’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – gave a brief report on the September 2013 financial statements included in the board packet. [.pdf of financial statements]

The unrestricted cash balance was $14.6 million as of Sept. 30, 2013. By the end of September, the library had received 81.7% ($9.353 million) of its budgeted tax receipts. [The library's fiscal year starts July 1. Summer property taxes are collected in July.] The fund balance at the end of September was $8.03 million.

Nine items are currently over budget, Nieman reported, mostly due to large payments made during the first quarter of the fiscal year. The items are expected to come back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year. The over-budget line items are: (1) employment costs related to merit increases paid in July; (2) purchased services; (3) utilities; (4) communications, for an annual Internet-related payment; (5) software; (6) building rental – for summer taxes and common area maintenance (CAM) charges at the Westgate branch; (7) copier/printer maintenance; (8) supplies, for new self-check stations; and (9) circulation supplies.

It was generally a normal month, he concluded.

There was one clarificational question, but otherwise no board discussion on this item.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Committee Reports

The board has six committees: communications, budget and finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation, and executive. Three brief committee reports were made during the Oct. 21 board meeting.

Committee Reports: Communications

Nancy Kaplan said the communications committee would be meeting next week, and hoped to have a report from Allerton-Hill Consulting to review.

Committee Reports: Executive

Prue Rosenthal, AADL board president, reported that the executive committee met “to discuss some of the issues that have been going on around the library, and we did not come to any particular conclusions and we will continue to discuss them and come back to you in November.” She did not elaborate.

Committee Reports: Policy

Barbara Murphy told the board that the policy committee met earlier this month. The staff had reviewed the policy manual and prepared a list of updates and proposed changes. It was a long meeting, she said, and the committee reviewed the staff’s suggestions. Staff members will now be incorporating the committee’s feedback into a new draft, which the committee will review at its next meeting.

Prue Rosenthal and Nancy Kaplan praised the staff for its work on this project. Kaplan said she was struck by the library’s generosity, as reflected in its policies.

Director’s Report

AADL director Josie Parker gave highlights from her written report. [.pdf of October director's report] She noted that she’d met with a group of people earlier in the day and it was mentioned that the library has a Minecraft server. For people who know about Minecraft, “it’s a really big deal,” she noted. The library does a lot of things that fall into that category, Parker added – things that unique and discrete groups really appreciate and identify with. That’s part of what makes the library as good as it is, she said, but it’s also part of the problem, in that not everyone knows everything that happens at AADL.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The Ann Arbor District Library board got an update on services for educators and students from associate director Celeste Choate, who is standing at the podium.

Parker said she thought about this when she read the first sentence of her director’s report: “The Oculus Rift Hackathon was held on the weekend of October 11-13th.” Three months ago, Parker said, she didn’t know what an Oculus Rift Hackathon meant. She wanted the board to think about these things that are important to some and completely irrelevant to others. “The combination of it all is what makes the Ann Arbor District Library the amazing library system that we all know it is. It’s the sum of all these parts, not one aspect or service.” Usually most people think about the library’s main service as the lending of books, Parker said. AADL still does that, she added, but there are so many other things as well.

Parker explained that Oculus Rift is a virtual reality game that requires wearing a head-mounted device. She likened it to the Star Trek holodeck. Prue Rosenthal asked if anyone could play it. In the absence of Eli Neiburger – AADL’s associate director of IT and product development who was in New Zealand – the questions were fielded by Kip DeGraaf of the library’s IT staff. He described Oculus Rift as a way of interacting with other games. Tim Grimes, AADL’s manager of community relations and marketing, explained that the hackathon entailed people developing new programs for this virtual reality system.

Board members asked several more questions about Minecraft. The library’s server is limited to creation activities, not war or violence, Parker said. People are challenged “to create an Ann Arbor that they’d like to live in.” She told board members that if they’d like to experience it, that could be arranged. Rosenthal reported that her son is taking her grandson to a Minecraft conference later this month.

Margaret Leary asked whether the use of the Minecraft server shows up in the AADL’s monthly statistics report. DeGraaf replied that those statistics haven’t yet been incorporated into the report. Leary wondered whether the virtual Ann Arbor being created by Minecraft would be of interest to local policymakers.

Other aspects of Parker’s report included ways that AADL interacts with University of Michigan students, and a presentation that Mariah Cherem made at EarthFest 2013. Parker also reported that a recent presentation made by Sherlonya Turner at the Michigan Library Association is receiving positive feedback. Also receiving a positive response was an MLA presentation by Celeste Choate about medical research and information.

The library also recently hosted an event with Bill Minutaglio, author of “Dallas 1963″ about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Parker reported that a man who attended the event had been in the honor guard that stood with JFK’s coffin. The event was well-attended, she said.

AADL Educational Services

The meeting concluded with a presentation about the range of AADL services for educators and students.

Sherlonya Turner, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sherlonya Turner, manager of youth and adult services and collections.

Celeste Choate – associate director of services, collections and access – noted that the library issues library cards to educators of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Ann Arbor Public Schools instructors who don’t live within the AADL district. You can also get a card if you’re a tutor, with a letter from your tutoring agency. She talked about the types of outreach that’s done to contact educators about this service. There are 24 cards issued to tutors, and 99 cards for non-resident instructors.

The library tries to attract educators through some of AADL’s new collections, Choate said. Those include digital microscopes, dinosaur kits, and musical instruments.

Sherlonya Turner, manager of youth and adult services and collections, talked to the board about the annual second-grade visit program, which has been taking place for many years. In 2012, 1,278 second-grade students from AAPS and charter schools came to the library. The Friends of the Library subsidizes the cost of busing students for this program. As a result, AADL gave out over 500 library cards.

The library staff also goes out into the schools every May to promote AADL’s summer game. In 2012, the staff visited 18 of 21 elementary schools, as well as all five AAPS middle schools and four private schools. There are also a variety of other outreach programs, Turner said. In addition, the staff develops curated lists of reading materials for students, and provides homework services like Brainfuse, which is offered online, as well as on-site tutors.

Terry Soave, manager of outreach and neighborhood services, talked about outreach to non-traditional students. AAPS adult education offers free GED classes at the Mallets Creek library branch, for example. Numbers are increasing, from 48 students in 2010-11 to 57 students in 2012-13.

Soave also described the Widening Advancements for Youth (WAY) program, an online public high school program. Part of the requirement is that students have to attend an on-site learning lab a minimum of two days a week, and AADL’s downtown library serves as one of the two locations in Washtenaw County for these labs.

The final program that Soave highlighted is called Library Songsters, coordinated by Ira Lax. It brings together local musicians – including Mr. B and Peter Madcat Ruth – with students who collaborate to write a song related to a theme that’s being studied in the schools. The presentation concluded with a video of fifth-grade students at Lawton Elementary who were studying core democratic values. They worked with their music teacher, Cynthia Page-Bogen, and musician Joe Reilly on a song about democracy.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

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

Absent: Ed Surovell.

Next meeting: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. October 24, 2013 at 12:34 am | permalink

    I appreciate the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s coverage of the Library Board discussion about the recommendation for a public open space adjacent to the downtown library. As one of those advocating for a public park/plaza on this location, I have learned much from discussions with Josie Parker and members of the Library Board. I understand more about the challenges that they face in maintaining the downtown library as a public space. They are dealing with significant challenges and it is not surprising that the protectors of the downtown library would view the idea of a new, nearby public open space with suspicion.

    Our group is working to create a park/plaza that will complement the mission of the AADL. We seek to engage the Library Board and the other neighbors of the site in thinking creatively about how to solve challenges of the entire Library Block – not just the relatively small space on top of the underground structure. This includes thinking about Liberty Plaza – a rare public open space downtown that is full of potential but also emblematic of the challenges posed by downtown parks. How can we work together to create the connections for pedestrians so that this public space is a year-round destination for people rather than a concrete waste-land for cars? That should be our goal. We are looking forward to a positive community dialogue to shape this optimistic vision into reality.

  2. By Odile Hugonot Haber
    October 24, 2013 at 10:06 am | permalink

    It is strange that every one fears the possibility of a park rather than to welcome it and embrace it as a needed challenge.
    Having been in New York recently I learned that there are at least 70 parks in Manhattan only; some are very popular like the Bryant Park behind the library, which offers Tai Chi and yoga classes in the morning, people playing chess, an outdoor restaurant, places for children to play. The smallest Parks like Greenacre or Payley Park are wonderful little islands of greenery with water falls, a place of calm respite.
    If Manhattan can do it, why can’t we? Children need playgrounds, one by the library would be most welcome. Older people need more benches, and water fountains also. The resident of Ann Arbor who do not have a home should have a day warming shelter other than the library like 721 North Main street which the city owns.
    There are pro-active ways to address all of the Library’s concerns for the betterment of the whole community.
    For the park, there are plenty of very good designers in Ann Arbor that could offer different designs that the residents could review and then would be invited to offer their opinions: a Participatory Park.
    As the article says, we could come up with creative, very innovative and beautiful designs.

  3. October 25, 2013 at 8:17 am | permalink

    Will and Odile, I was thinking the same thing. It’s harder for us because we don’t have millions of residents. We also have a poor record with downtown parks but we can use that as a guide for what not to do. It makes no sense to say we’re not going to put in a park because we don’t know if it will work. Put in the park, then make it work.

    I’ve got a lot of ideas and I’m sure others do too. Here are a few. Lease part of the plaza to the two restaurants, at $1 a year. Put in a proper pedestrian connection to Liberty Plaza. Make a front porch for the library, with benches, tables, and chess boards. Bring in a food cart. Put a mid-block crossing on Fifth to connect to the bus station. Re-zone and provide incentives for neighboring businesses to put storefronts facing the park. Get the Credit Union to move their ATM to the back of their lot. Get the Feds to fix the post office, and have the front door face Fifth. Put in an ice rink.

  4. October 25, 2013 at 8:42 am | permalink

    I’ve been reading a great deal about “placemaking”, a concept behind many new urban initiatives. The idea is to make a downtown a vibrant (that word!) active engaging space that draws people out and creates a sense of community. It is what is supposed to attract the desirable “Millenials”. (Around here we call them “talent”.)

    One of the common threads in all the accounts is urban open space. It is ironic, considering all the rhetoric about our downtown that has issued from the DDA, that we would ignore this.

    Here is a link to a recent authoritative white paper on the subject. (large file) [link to .pdf] One of the places cited is Bryant Park.

  5. By Herb
    October 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm | permalink

    Not long ago during the millage campaign for a new downtown library (convention center?) there were claims and counter claims, at time acrimonious, about the numbers of and problems caused by “non traditional users”. During this debate the management was notably absent. Now with the park issue we get some data such as calls to the police every three or four days, four security guards on the payroll, daily behavior problems. Better late than never. Makes me wonder not only why a new park but also why the downtown library?

  6. October 27, 2013 at 11:24 am | permalink

    I was on the Library Board from 2000 to 2008. Security at the Downtown Library was a serious concern. At one point drug dealers were using the bathroom ceiling to store drugs. We substantially beefed up security, including posting staff full-time near the door.

    The problem is not only with criminals, but with the homeless and other PWIs (People With Issues). Frequent calls to the police, plus the Library’s own staff, make this problem manageable.

    I don’t think this problem makes a park on the Library Lot unrealistic.