Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 21, 2014): Two items were the main focus of this month’s AADL board meeting: a review of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, and action on the redesigned entrance to the downtown library.
The proposed fiscal year 2014-15 budget – for the 12 months starting July 1, 2014 – is based on a levy of 1.55 mills, unchanged from the current rate. The library is authorized to levy up to 1.92 mills, but in recent years the board has set the millage rate at lower levels. The $12.568 million budget assumes a 2.4% increase in the district’s property tax base.
The board is expected to vote on the budget at its May 19 meeting.
Related to the redesigned downtown library’s front entrance, the board authorized the library director, Josie Parker, to hire a construction manager for the project. Board members also allocated $18,580 from the fund balance to pay InForm Studio for construction documents. InForm Studio, the architecture firm that previously designed AADL’s Traverwood branch, has been working on this project for several months. An update was given most recently at the board’s March 17, 2014 meeting.
Before taking action, the board heard from InForm Studio’s Cory Lavigne, who presented a revised design for the project, based on feedback from board members and the public. A large translucent sign that had previously been part of the design is now eliminated, after some board members voiced concerns about security issues that it might cause. A bench in front of the building – originally part of the proposed design – has been removed. Instead, a sign that’s low to the ground is proposed in that location.
The existing teal porcelain panels that wrap around the front facade, part of architect Alden Dow’s original design from the mid-1950s, will be replaced with a “concrete skin” panel. The entrance will continue to be oriented to South Fifth Avenue, with new doors into the building. Leading from the front of the building into the vestibule will be two balanced double doors, which will be easier to open than the existing entry, and a single automatic door. A matching set of these doors will lead from the vestibule to the interior of the building.
Lavigne reviewed several other changes, some of which addressed accessibility concerns that were raised in the preliminary design. A heated sidewalk is proposed along the exterior edge of the steps.
The board spent several minutes discussing a suggestion from Ed Surovell, who wanted more than just one flagpole in front of the building. Trustees reached consensus for the details to be worked out by the architect and the facilities committee, on which Surovell serves. Other members of the facilities committee are Margaret Leary and Jan Barney Newman.
The April 21 meeting also marked some transitions in top administrative positions. Associate director Ken Nieman, who has worked at AADL for 14 years, has taken a job as CFO for the public library in Sonomo County, California. His last day at AADL will be May 2. That will also be the last day for human resources manager DeAnn Doll, who’s been with AADL for about 15 years. She has accepted a job as director of human resources for Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida.
Earlier this year, Celeste Choate – AADL’s former associate director of services, collections and access – was hired as executive director of the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, Illinois. She started that position on April 1.
At the April 21 meeting, AADL director Josie Parker noted that change is a constant, “and while we miss people, we look forward to the opportunities that change brings us.”
Downtown Library Front Entrance
The agenda included a resolution that took several steps on renovations of the downtown library entrance.
It would authorize the library director, Josie Parker, to hire a construction manager for the project, and allocate $18,580 from the fund balance to pay InForm Studio for construction documents. InForm Studio, the architecture firm that previously designed AADL’s Traverwood branch, has been working on this project for several months. An update was given most recently at the board’s March 17, 2014 meeting.
Parker has previously expressed her intent that the cost of the project be kept under $250,000. Approval of the construction budget would come at a later date.
Margaret Leary, chair of the board’s facilities committee, told trustees that Cory Lavigne of InForm Studio met with the committee for a couple of hours on April 8. The committee – including board members Ed Surovell and Jan Barney Newman – had discussed feedback from a March 13 public forum as well as board discussions. Lavigne presented a revised design to committee members, who discussed it and made some tweaks. That design was now being brought before the board.
At the April 21 board meeting, Lavigne reviewed the new design, noting that many of the changes relate to handicap accessibility, safety, and aspects of maintaining the integrity of architect Alden Dow’s original design.
The existing teal porcelain metal panels will be removed and replaced with a “concrete skin” rainscreen panel that wraps around the front. Exposed concrete and wood will be incorporated into the soffit of the existing canopy, to add some warmth and color to that element, he said, and to tie in with the brick on the building. Stainless steel will be used in some of the handrails and signs.
A large translucent sign that had previously been part of the design is now eliminated, after some board members voiced concerns about security issues that it might cause. A bench in front of the building – originally part of the proposed design – has been removed. Instead, a sign that’s low to the ground is proposed in that location. Some internally lit translucent material will be used in that sign, Lavigne said. There will also be ground lighting to illuminate the sign.
He described the sign as a design that’s “very civic and formal, and yet retains a new, modern edge which ties into the new materials that we’re using.” The sign will pick up on material in an existing greenish slate wall, using a bluestone material with a somewhat rough finish – with an unpolished surface.
The entrance will continue to be oriented to South Fifth Avenue, with new doors into the building. Leading from the front of the building into the vestibule will be two balanced double doors, which will be easier to open than the existing entry, and a single automatic door that can be opened with a handicap-accessible panel. A matching set of these doors will lead from the vestibule to the interior of the building. The balanced doors would have a six-foot opening. The single door would have a three-foot opening.
Lavigne also described the sloped access to the entrance from Library Lane to the north. There will be stainless steel handrails on both sides of the walkway. The slope has about a 3% incline, he noted. Building code requires handrails for a 5% incline, but the library is choosing to put in handrails as a precaution, even though it’s not required.
On the south side of the building, coming from William Street, there will be a concrete retaining wall that curves around a flagpole and an address sign. New handrails will be installed on the sloping walkway, which has a 2.9% incline.
A landscaping area on the northern side has been reconfigured, based on feedback from University of Michigan architecture professor Doug Kelbaugh. It will be edged with bluestone material to frame in the area, which will have native grasses and wildflowers that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Existing stormwater drainage will spill into the planter bed, so there will be no need for irrigation, Lavigne said.
The design calls for a heated sidewalk along the exterior edge of the front steps. The walkway under the existing canopy would not be heated – because there’s no need for it, Lavigne said.
Lavigne said that InForm Studio is talking with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority about incorporating the public sidewalk in front of the entrance – on city property – into the project, to eliminate an “awkward” step up from South Fifth Avenue. “It’s quite a drop from the existing curb,” he noted.
AADL director Josie Parker stressed that InForm Studio, not the library itself, is discussing this possibility with the DDA. She noted that eliminating the step at the street would likely require adding another step on the library property – from three steps to four. “The grade has to come from somewhere,” she said.
Steps leading up to the entrance would have handrails at intermediate spots. The flagpole will be lit with an in-ground LED fixture, as would a sign providing the street address.
Lavigne said they’re also considering a new sign that would be high on the library’s west facade, and lit.
Downtown Library Front Entrance: Board Discussion
Barbara Murphy asked about the street address sign. It appeared to be bigger and more prominent than the sign with the AADL name, she said. “I would venture to say that 99% of the people in Ann Arbor, including library staff, have no idea what 343 means.” [The street address is 343 South Fifth Avenue.] She proposed that it be made less prominent than the sign with AADL’s name.
Nancy Kaplan asked for clarification about the front railings. Lavigne explained that there would be a handrail on the northern edge of the steps, next to the landscape plantings. Two additional handrails would line up with the entry doors, and a fourth handrail would be on the far south edge of the steps. The handrails will extend a foot beyond the edge of the steps at the top and bottom.
Kaplan also asked about the cost of the balanced doors. Lavigne replied that they are about three times more expensive than regular doors. AADL director Josie Parker said the balanced doors are much easier to use. Because the downtown library entrance is heavily used, “we need the best doors that we can afford,” she said.
Ed Surovell proposed including additional flagpoles, rather than just one. The flagpoles could fly the U.S. flag, the state of Michigan flag, and then a possible third flag that might vary, he said. Responding to a query from Murphy, Parker reported that the existing flag flies continuously – it’s not taken down at night. Lavigne indicated that putting in three flagpoles would be possible.
Margaret Leary said she didn’t want to confuse people by flying the flag for the city of Ann Arbor. “We are in Ann Arbor, but we are not a city library,” she said. “I love the city flag – whatever it is – but the state, the U.S., and the AADL flags are fine with me.”
Surovell said the third flag could be the block M on University of Michigan game days, or flags representing the countries of visiting speakers. “There are lots of things you can do with it,” he said.
Kaplan noted that the proposed entrance design is very clean and uncluttered, and she didn’t want the flagpoles to interfere with that.
Trustees reached consensus for the details to be worked out by the architect and the facilities committee, on which Surovell serves. Other members of the facilities committee are Leary and Jan Barney Newman.
Downtown Library Front Entrance: Resolution
Margaret Leary read the proposed resolution. It authorized the library director, Josie Parker, to continue working with InForm Studio on the next phase of the project, and to hire a construction manager. The resolution also approved the allocation of $18,580 from the fund balance to pay InForm Studio for construction documents.
Barbara Murphy clarified that the construction manager would produce the estimated cost for completing the project. Leary noted that the board will be required to vote on the funding for that work.
Outcome: The resolution was passed unanimously.
Ken Nieman – the library’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – presented the proposed fiscal year 2014-15 budget, which is based on a levy of 1.55 mills, unchanged from the current rate. The library’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.
He began by noting that the original draft budget had been based on a projected 1.5% increase in the tax base. But subsequently, Washtenaw County’s equalization report was released, showing that the increase in AADL’s district is 2.4% for 2014. So the board was provided with an updated budget summary based on that new information. [.pdf of updated draft budget summary] [.pdf of original draft budget, with additional line-item details] The budget reflects $12.568 million in revenues, up from $12.471 million in the current fiscal year.
The budget assumes a 2.4% increase in tax revenues, based on an increase in property values. The library is authorized to levy up to 1.92 mills, but in recent years the board has set the millage rate at lower levels.
The budget reflects a 3% increase in the merit raise pool for full-time employees. Salaries, wages and benefits account for the largest portion of the budget expenditures – a projected $8.048 million in fiscal 2014-15. The budget also includes a 3% increase in the library’s contribution to employee health care costs. Other major line items include materials ($1.75 million); utilities ($448,000); programming ($320,000); and repair/maintenance ($312,000).
The legal expense line item is increasing from a budgeted $50,000 this year to $96,000 in FY 2014-15. That reflects the start of union contract negotiations, Nieman said.
He described it as “a fairly normal budget, as things go, since we stopped building buildings.” Nieman, who was attending his last board meeting, received a round of applause from trustees.
2014-15 Budget: Board Discussion
Barbara Murphy clarified with AADL director Josie Parker that a budget adjustment would be required when the board decides to move ahead with the front entrance renovation. The funding for that project would be drawn from the library’s fund balance.
Margaret Leary clarified with Parker that expenses for outreach, such as newsletters and other mailings to residents, would be included in the library programming line item, not the communications line item. The programming line item is increasing by $85,000 compared to the current fiscal year.
Ed Surovell asked about the impact of changes to the personal property tax. Nieman replied that at the AADL’s current levy of 1.55 mills, an elimination of the PPT – if it were not replaced in some way – would mean a loss of $635,000 in revenues. In August of 2014, voters statewide will be asked to approve a shift in “use tax” dollars that would replace the personal property tax revenue. Nieman said the 2014-15 budget assumes there will be no change in the amount of revenues related to the PPT.
Parker said that if any changes in projected tax revenues occur during the fiscal year, the library would tap its fund balance. For the next budget approval process, a year from now, one option would be to increase the library’s levy to make up the loss.
Parker noted that there’s an upcoming public forum on the PPT sponsored by the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. The April 28 luncheon event starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel, 3200 Boardwalk St. Speakers include state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-District 18) and Mike Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
Outcome: This was not a voting item. The board is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting on May 19.
The board was asked to approve an extension of the audit services contract with the accounting firm Rehmann, for the period of a year beyond the hiring of a new comptroller. The extension would be until June 30, 2015 for a fee of $10,150. AADL director Josie Parker told the board that the contract extension comes in the context of Ken Nieman’s departure, to provide some continuity in the accounting process.
Outcome: Trustees unanimously approved the resolution regarding Rehmann’s contract extension.
Ken Nieman – the library’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – gave a brief report on the March 2014 financial statements. [.pdf of finance report]
Through March 31, the library has received 98% of its budgeted tax receipts for the fiscal year. The library had $11.038 million in unrestricted cash at the end of March, with a fund balance of $8.415 million.
Three line items – purchased services, software, and copier expenses – are over budget, but are expected to come back in line by the end of AADL’s fiscal year on June 30, according to Nieman. There was nothing out of the ordinary during the month, he said.
There were no questions for Nieman, but board members thanked him for his service to AADL.
In addition to items in her written report, AADL director Josie Parker highlighted an award for environmental excellence in water quality protection that the library recently received from the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office. Board president Prue Rosenthal read aloud some remarks from water resources commissioner Evan Pratt, describing why AADL had received the award. It included the fact that AADL has been a Community Partner for Clean Streams since 2004, and has helped educate the community about climate change, energy use, and threats to water quality.
The library hosted a sustainability forum, in collaboration with the city of Ann Arbor, and has made a commitment to sustainable infrastructure design. The Malletts Creek, Pittsfield and Traverwood branches were designed to reduce environmental impacts. The Malletts Creek branch, for example, incorporates solar heat, natural daylighting, convection cooling and recycled materials. The branch’s landscaping, including a green roof, is designed for stormwater management.
Margaret Leary pointed out that the three branches highlighted in this award are the three new buildings constructed since 2004. “When we build new, we build environmentally wonderful buildings,” she said.
Parker also called out some parts of her written report. [.pdf of director's report] She highlighted visits from the vice director of China’s Heilongjiang Provincial Library, and the American Library Association president Barbara Stripling. Parker said she was proud that AADL was the host library for both those events in one week.
Each month, the board is provided with library statistics in five categories: Collections, users, visits, usage and participation. The data is compared to year-ago figures, when available. The information was presented by Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development.
Neiburger reviewed highlights of this information, and also showed the board about two dozen examples of Tweets that mentioned @aadl during the months of February and March. In response to a query from Ed Surovell, Neiburger said there are up to 10 Tweets a day that mention or favorite @aadl. In that case, Surovell said, “reading them is not an insurmountable task.”
Here are some examples mentioned in Neiburger’s presentation:
The board has seven committees: communications, budget and finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation, executive, and strategic plan. Because membership on each committee consists of only three trustees, which is fewer than a quorum of the board, the meetings are not required to be open to the public under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The board has the option of making its committee meetings open to the public, but has chosen not to do so.
On April 21, four committee reports were given – finance, communications, director’s evaluation, and facilities. The facilities committee report is included as part of this article’s section on the downtown front entrance design.
Committee Reports: Finance
Chair Jan Barney Newman said the committee hasn’t met since the previous board meeting, but will be getting together soon to review the budget before the May board meeting. Other committee members are Barbara Murphy and Nancy Kaplan.
Committee Reports: Communications
Chair Rebecca Head said the committee has now met with all city councilmembers to discuss issues related to the future of the city-owned Library Lane lot north of the downtown library. The committee also talked about results of the recent EPIC-MRA survey, which had been presented to the whole board on March 17, 2014. The committee discussed what the next steps will be. [.pdf of 2014 survey results] [.pdf of 2014 results compared to 2012] Head said the committee might hold off on that process until a replacement is hired for Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations. Nieman’s last day is May 2.
Other communications committee members are Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal.
Committee Reports: Director’s Evaluation
Barbara Murphy, the committee’s chair, reported that the group met to review a draft evaluation of AADL director Josie Parker. The May board meeting will include a closed session for the evaluation. The committee members are Murphy, Jan Barney Newman and Rebecca Head.
Two top AADL administrators will be leaving the organization in early May. The departures were discussed at the board’s April 21 meeting.
Ken Nieman, the library’s associate director of finance, HR and operations, has taken a job as CFO for the public library in Sonomo County, California. AADL Josie Parker noted that they both started working at the Ann Arbor library 14 years ago. Parker was appointed director two years later, she said, and “Ken has pretty much taught me what I know about municipal finance and budgets.”
When she was offered the job of director, Parker asked Nieman if he’d stay at least a year longer to help with the transition. “He came here to solve a big giant problem, and he did it,” Parker told the board. “It never occurred to me that he’d stay, and he has – for a dozen years.” [Parker was referring to financial issues under the library’s previous leadership that included a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2000. Later that year, the library’s former financial director, Don Dely, was found guilty of embezzling $119,387 from the library from 1997 to 2000, according to a report in the Ann Arbor News.]
Prue Rosenthal said she’d miss watching Nieman’s face “when somebody is saying something that is not sensible, or is not smart, or is going on too long, or is upsetting him – which doesn’t happen often but does happen occasionally.” She thanked him for working with the board to help them understand the budget.
Nancy Kaplan, a member of the board’s finance committee, also thanked Nieman for his help, saying it was a pleasure to work with him.
Parker announced that human resources manager DeAnn Doll, who’s been with AADL for about 15 years, has accepted a job as director of human resources for Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida. Her last day will also be May 2.
Change is constant, Parker noted, “and while we miss people, we look forward to the opportunities that change brings us.”
Rosenthal characterized it as a “feather in the cap” for AADL to have its employees to move on to jobs at larger institutions. “And warmer climates,” quipped Jan Barney Newman.
Later in the meeting, the board also passed a resolution of appreciation for Patti Miller, who retired on April 11 after 18 years of service at AADL in the former acquisitions department, which is now called collections management.
Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell.
Next regular meeting: Monday, May 19, 2014 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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