By Sue Ravenscroft
(Oct. 5, 2009 - 10:30 a.m.) I strongly support the Ames Public Library by borrowing books, attending programs, donating to the Friends, and volunteering at book sales. So I was very pleased when the library announced that they sought public involvement and participation in plans to expand.
At the first public meeting we learned about a beautiful library in Fayetteville, Arkansas, built after three years of intense public discussion and debate. We were assured everything was on the table and we were starting at zero. Ames really needed a conversation like that - where the public cared intensely and knew their voices would be respected.
Unfortunately, the conversation here bore little resemblance to Fayetteville’s. A major decision – the size of the expansion – was made in 2007 without public involvement. Our public talks began in February and ended in July, not close to the time the Fayetteville public was given. While the public repeatedly supported renovating and expanding the current building, we were told that possibility was off the table. That decision was particularly surprising, because the 1984 addition was built to bear a second storey west of the clerestory and the neighboring lot was recently bought for expansion.
We were told three options would be developed, but in May the Board of Trustees narrowed the choices to two, neither of which had strong support from the public.
Throughout, the vast majority of the involved public continued -- via letters (including one from the Chief of Police) and public forums -- to support keeping the library on Douglas.
Nonetheless, the Board decided last month, contrary to most of the public input they had received, to recommend a bond issue vote for an entirely new building across from City Hall.
The public was told we would have a real role in the discussions; it turns out we didn’t.