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Library funding study complete

NORTH LIBERTY– The North Liberty Community Library needs more space, the community generally agrees.
However, there is not strong enough consensus about how big the expansion and its accompanying price tag should be – or how it should be paid for – to warrant the large-scale renovation library officials were hoping for at this time.
Consultants from the Renaissance Group, Inc. (RGI) of Des Moines recently completed a funding feasibility study for a library expansion, and presented a report to the North Liberty City Council during a work session July 28. RGI president David Hoeksema said members of the expansion committee, community individuals and library staff held a series of public and small-group informational meetings to outline library expansion plans and get input from other members of the community. Following the meetings, 45 separate interviews were conducted with people who attended the meetings or who were identified as key community leaders.
“These confidential interviews provided greater insight into people’s willingness to support the project,” Hoeksema said.
Hoeksema summarized the feeling for the expansion as generally positive, indicating a desire for an expansion to accommodate current and project city growth. But volatile economic conditions locally and nationally have shifted people’s attitudes toward spending and their capacity for charitable giving, he noted.
“We believe the original goal and scope of the expansion are not achievable at this time,” Hoeksema said.
RGI recommended the city scale back the proposed 29,000 sq. ft. expansion and consider building it in phases, with a fundraising goal for the first phase not to exceed $1.25 million unless federal or state stimulus dollars become available.
Original plans called for a $5.5 million project, with $2 million coming from the city and 3.5 million hoping to be raised through individual, corporate and foundation support.
While 53 percent of the interviewees believed the library’s need justified a capital campaign at this time, 33 percent were undecided about when funds should be raised, while 13 percent suggested delaying the campaign until next year.
“This is a direct response to the current economic conditions, and not a reflection of attitudes toward the library services,” Hoeksema pointed out.
In addition to economic concerns, interviewees predominantly felt the city had more pressing priorities, including Highway 965 upgrades and adding space for other city services, such as the police and fire departments and city hall.
The city’s contribution has not been formally decided, nor has it been determined where the money will come from, though options might include Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds or a general obligation bond referendum, which would have to be put to public vote.
Council member Gerry Kuhl said he was more comfortable with doubling the current size of the library from 6,000 sq. ft. to 12,000; at an estimated cost of $165 per sq. ft., Kuhl figured, the project cost would be closer to $1 million.
Friends of the Library member Bill Montgomery argued against such a reduction in scope.
“Take a look around. You’ll find this city has a history of building for what we need right now,” instead of building for the future, Montgomery said. “Just doubling the library’s current size is not a wise approach.”
Council member Jim Wozniak was less concerned with the project’s total square footage, he said, than what would be going into the space.
“I understand the need for meeting space and office space, but it’s being a repository of information that makes a library valuable,” Wozniak said. “Information today is moving toward the megabyte. I need to see what kind of technology that is going into the guts of that plan.”
Library Director Dee Crowner responded that the library staff have replaced its physical reference books with online reference materials, purchased increasing numbers of audio books, and are considering ways for patrons to download books to digital devices at no additional cost.
With an estimated $1.5 million that might be raised through private donations and $2 million committed from the city, a 15,000 sq. ft. expansion and renovations might be more a more reasonable expectation at this time, ventured Hoeksema, but nothing can move forward until the city determines its financial contribution and method of funding.
“The next step is, we need to finalize the scope of this project,” he said. “If a revised goal and scaled-back project will still meet the needs of the library, we recommend proceeding with the campaign. Otherwise, our recommendation is not to proceed at this time.”
No formal action was taken at the work session, but the council directed City Administrator Ryan Heiar to explore funding options, particularly the status of the city’s TIF fund capacity, and asked RGI and Crowner to get more firm estimates about costs per square foot of construction.