By Angela Son, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 18, 2012
When Ann Arbor voters head to the polls this November, they will be have the opportunity to determine whether the Ann Arbor District Library should receive a $65-million bond that will finance the building of a new facility to replace its current main branch at Fifth Avenue and William Street.
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Margaret Leary, the president of the AADL Trustees and former director of the University’s Law Library, said the new building would better serve the needs of the community with a 400 seat auditorium, meeting and tutoring spaces, computers and a café with extended hours.
“The condition and size and quality of a public library (are) a real indication to the world of how important education, literacy, reading and community gathering are,” Leary said. “And by that measure Ann Arbor doesn’t stand up ... Ann Arbor is really falling behind in that regard.”
Leary said the library building doesn’t fulfill many standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and its upkeep is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive.
Though library officials said the $65 million will be enough to demolish the current library and construct a new one, opposing groups have expressed concern about funding the project.
Katherine Griswold — the treasurer of Protect Our Libraries, a local movement against the proposal — said the 30-year bond on the millage may cause the interest rate to match the actual construction cost. She noted that construction works usually end up being over-budgeted.
Griswold said the bond would be a burden for all Ann Arborites, particularly senior citizens who pay property tax in the city of Ann Arbor.
“If the public would have known we’re talking about a cost 130 million dollars for 30 years, I think that we would’ve been engaged,” Griswold said.
She added that rebuilding the library should not be a top priority of the city, noting there are more urgent needs, such as enhancing the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
“No vote is not a vote against the library system,” Griswold said. “It’s just saying lets step back … We can come up with a better plan.”
While library officials argue that the current building has insufficient meeting spaces for community events, Griswold said downtown Ann Arbor already has enough venues for large gatherings.
However, Ellie Serras — the chair of the Our New Library Campaign committee, an organization in support of the millage — said holding large numbers of events at alternative locations is unrealistic. She noted that requests for meeting space have increased 20 percent since 2009.
“The demand for that building exceeds capacity today,” Serras said.
Last year, the library hosted 11 events at which attendees were forced to split between two floors because the library did not have enough space, according to Serra. She said the library hopes to bring more presentations and book reviews to Ann Arbor with the new auditorium.
Additionally, she said the current building does not utilize energy efficiently, in part because the building’s heating and cooling are controlled on two separate floors, and a new facility would help alleviate these issues.
“Renovating (the) current building doesn’t work … Rebuilding will make the building much more energy efficient,” Serras said.
Serras said that library estimates from four years ago indicate that the cost of rebuilding the library is within 10 percent of the cost of renovation, adding that construction costs and interest rates are the lowest they have been in several years.
She added that a renovation would also be greatly helpful for citizens with special needs.
“We have a visually impaired library in basement, but people can’t get down there without the help of staff,” Serras said.