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Library board chooses new site for library

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By Mike Malloy

(Sept. 25, 2009 – 11 a.m.) The new library project took a long stride forward Thursday as the Ames Public Library Board of Trustees voted 6-2 in favor of building a new library just east of city hall.

The board had narrowed its choices to city hall and expanding the current site, and the estimated cost for either at about $35 million.

The proposed facility would be three stories, include a four-story parking garage with 150 spaces, and would be 94,000 square feet, or nearly double the current size.

Board members Sherry Bradley, Harry Budd    , Al Campbell, Dudley Luckett, Sam Schill, and Kevin Stow voted in favor of the new location. Sherry Meier and Melody Wamick favored the current site.

Meier said she originally favored a new building, but after some thought changed her mind owing to concerns over whether the Ames City Council would allow construction at the new location. The council has yet to take a position on the matter, allowing the library board to first come to a decision 

Wamick, who noted that overwhelming public support was behind keeping the library where it is, was also hesitant about leaving the current building empty.

“I think the onus would be on us to find a suitable tenant, and that could cause delays,” Wamick said.

Bradley, like Meier, also had a change of heart but in the opposite direction.

“My original reaction was for nostalgia. I’d grown up playing on the steps of the library,” Bradley said. “But if you’ve ever taken a tour you have seen the working conditions that the poor staff has to endure. It’s horrible. There’s no line of sight and some of the rooms are so stuffy that you practically go to sleep.”

Bradley also said that just as the community once decided to convert the old high school into city hall it would do the same in finding a new purpose for the current library.

Three of the four people that spoke in public forum wanted to expand the library at its current site.

Holly Fuchs said the current building maintains a sense of place and connection to Ames’ history and also had better expansion possibilities. Fuchs also felt the process of gathering public input was flawed. Sue Ravenscroft agreed.

“The mayor appoints this board and the mayor I thought probably would favor new buildings over old,” Ravenscroft said after the meeting. “I’m surprised that they didn’t pay more attention to what they heard from the public.”

Ravenscroft said she is now unsure if she will vote “yes” on a bond referendum financing the project. Had the board chosen the current site, she definitely would have voted in favor, “And I would have donated money.”

Cheryl Binzen was against the city hall plan. She felt a new building would crowd the space around city hall and cut down many trees. Binzen also felt that moving the library would take the focus off the more economically developed eastern end of downtown.

Tom Neihof was in favor of the new building.

“By building a new building we save the cost and the energy and the staff time of moving the library to a temporary location,” he said.

Building at the new location would force the library to relocate, likely for two years, while a new building was constructed on the current site. Jeffrey Scherer – the Minneapolis-based consultant hired to design a new facility – said renting a different facility could be quite expensive, and would disrupt many library activities possibly causing users to get out of the habit of attending library events.

The current library was last expanded in 1984, and is 48,000-square feet. Scherer feels that expansion was inadequate, and as a result the current library is about 20,000-square feet too small. So much so that library personnel have repeatedly said that when a new book is purchased, an old book must be removed to make space.

The current aisles are just wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but a person in a wheelchair can’t turn around, or allow someone else to pass by.  The narrow aisles also create a security issue as there are some areas that can’t be seen by security cameras.

This decision, though, is far from the last one in the process. Site plans will be filed in January, and there will be four public meetings held prior to that. The biggest hurdle will be the bond referendum. That vote is tentatively scheduled for next August. If it passes, construction would take roughly three years meaning the new library wouldn’t open its doors until late 2013.

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