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New library would cost $15 to $20 million

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By Mike Malloy

(Oct. 22, 2010 - 8:30 a.m.) A new library, if approved, would be much less expensive than first thought.

That was the conclusion from Thursday’s Ames Public Library Board of Trustees meeting.


The firm of Burges and Burges of Cleveland presented its findings from phone surveys it conducted with 400 Ames residents. The survey results showed that a project of about $20 million – much less than the $30-$35 million initial proposal – was the maximum the public would support. The total amount would consist of a $15 million bond, and as much as $5 million in private support.

“Philanthropic support is a must,” said Katherine Manning, Vice-President of Burges and Burges. “People insisted that you have some kind of private support.”

The study found that:

* 80 percent of Ames families use the library, 52 percent use it at least once a month.

* 57 percent said they would support a $15 million bond, 32 percent were against, and 11 percent were undecided. Note: Such a bond would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $2.29 a month in property taxes.

“It’s not a bad place to start. I’ve seen worse,” said Burges and Burges President Bill Burges, who said it is better if such a survey produces at least 60 percent approval. “The comfort in those numbers is there is a base from which to work from.”

* On where they would like to see that money spent, the following percentages favored: repair building and increase energy efficiency (91%), add to children’s area and children’s activities (84), expand spaces for more books and other materials (83), provide more room for computers with Internet access (73), expand for teenagers to do homework and use computers (72), expand room for community groups (60).

* 38 percent said the library is fine the way it is, with 86 percent of those responders having voted against the theoretical $15 million bond in the earlier question.

* 69 percent believe the renovation should preserve the Carnegie section, built in 1904.

* 85 percent are more supportive of the bond if private funds are also contributed.

Burges said more community engagement is needed, and that much hard work remains.

“There’s weak support for it, but it needs to be solidified,” he said.

The road to library renovation has had many unexpected turns. Throughout much of 2009, several public meetings were held with architect Jeffrey Scherer of the Minneapolis firm Meyer, Scherer, and Rockcastle to discuss what a new library would look like. After that prolonged discussion, the library board voted to create a new facility immediately east of city hall.

That plan was later abandoned, with Library Director Art Weeks saying in May, “Everybody is saying that you’re $30-35 million is too much to achieve, and quite frankly we’re in agreement with that. It was a lofty goal.”

On Thursday, Weeks said he’d spoken with Scherer, “Only in the most general terms,”  about the revised figure.

“We do have to expand the shelf space, we do have to create a better space for the children, and we need to grow our meeting rooms a little bit more, and he knows that,” Weeks said. “I’m very optimistic we can meet those objective with what we’ve got to work with.” 

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