Library Board dislikes Commons as library site
After a long discussion at its Feb. 4 Library Board Meeting, it was clear how the Friday Memorial Library Board felt about the preliminary designs presented using the Community Commons as the site for a new library.
“The sentiment of the library board is that we 100 percent do not want a library at the Community Commons,” said Library Board member Bobbie Dale-Wozniak who also serves as a city alderperson. “We don’t know how they can design something there that would fit our needs.”
The board was presented with four options by the Cuningham Group that varied in design and appearance from a three-story option to a single-story option that used the north wing of the Community Commons rather than the 1926 portion that is currently not being used. Of those four options, the board found only Option 2 to be viable.
“If it is designed as a school and if the school doesn’t see fit to put any time into it, why would anybody else?” said Library Board President Jeff Peplau. “People have told us they want it at the current site, and that is where the enthusiasm is. That’s where our donations are going to come from.”
Option 1 was thrown out immediately due to the location of the design, which would have put the library in the north wing of the Community Commons, which is used by many different groups, rather than the 1926 portion which is not being used.
“Option 1 was thrown out right away because I don’t think the school would want us to have this option,” said Interim Library Director Jennifer Rickard. “It is where a lot of those Commons Partners currently are and it is set up for that already.”
Option 2 was the only design that the library board considered viable out of the four designs since it would put the whole of the library on one level rather than two or three, like Options 3 and 4. Even though the board thought Option 2 might be viable for the Community Commons, there were still some concerns as to how the design would actually work in the space.
“They wanted to add on all the new construction in order to put us all on one level,” Rickard said. “This plan also removes the current 1987 portion, which is not a great option. The problem here is that we would still have the second and third floors which is not a good thing either. But I told them I still like this option best since it is all on one level.”
Option 3, which the board rejected, had a three-level design which the board didn’t like because it presented a multitude of problems for the library staff and the amount of space the books would take up.
“There is no way to staff three levels, since, like Jennifer (Rickard) said at the meeting, there are just two people on staff in the evenings at the library and a high school shelfer,” Dale-Wozniak said. “You can’t staff three levels with that few people or even two levels.”
Rickard also brought up the fact that people want to have quick access to the library’s materials and having those materials spread throughout two or three levels would make that harder for both visitors and staff.
“People want quick, convenient service and they want to be in and out,” Rickard said. “People need to get in, get to a computer and get what they want quickly. So if they have to go up to the second or third floor for the computers, how is that going to make it easier?”
Option 4 is a two-story option, which the board also rejected, since it has many of the same problems as Option 3, but also cuts into some of the existing sections of the Community Commons that are currently in use, including the VFW and the Five Loaves Food Shelf.
“If we do end up deciding to use that part of the building for a library, the rest of the building would need to be brought up to code as well, which would mean updating sprinkler systems and other such things,” Dale-Wozniak said. “That isn’t ideal since that would be a cost for everyone else in the Commons.”
Another problem that arose at the board meeting was a request for the board to see another presentation made by local architect Scott Counter, who is President of Home Tec Designers and Builders, Inc. in New Richmond. Counter did not present a proposal during the formal bidding period when the Library Board was first seeking architects for the new library. Cuningham called Counter and asked if he would want to show the designs to them, but he said he would not. Contractually, the library board does not believe they can look at a proposal or presentation from Counter since they’re under contract with Cuningham. “The majority of the library board does not want to see the presentation because we have questions about the legality of it, because it is a public construction contract,” Bobbie Dale-Wozniak said.
In the end, the board was in consensus that the best spot for the library would be at its current site and if a new building was built there it could be a pillar of the community for many years to come.
“I think for any community… when people are downtown, they want to see stuff happening and see people out, kids having fun and families interacting,” Rickard said. “Having us in that corner and seeing the programs that we have there in the summer is something people love. That will make people passing through the community stop and see what is going on. If there is just business and traffic in the community, they aren’t going to look at it at all.”
The board also wants to set aside a date to have a community hearing about the library designs for both the Community Commons site and the designs for the current location as well.
“We agreed to have a public hearing about the design and at that public hearing I’ve asked Cuningham to present the preliminary designs for the current site again as well as the Commons,” Dale-Wozniak said. “I have heard from people that they didn’t really like the first design we did over there, but that was just a preliminary idea and we can fit the library there. I don’t think that people not liking the design should be the basis for rejecting the site. It has been nearly a year since people last saw those designs for the current library site and we want to give them a chance to look at that again.”
Cuningham was scheduled to make a presentation at the Community Commons Committee meeting on Feb. 5, but the group asked for the meeting to be pushed back until Wednesday, Feb. 19, in order to finish the designs and figures for the Community Commons option for the new library. The group will also come back with more refined parking designs and solutions for the site as well after being asked to look into it more by the Library Board.