New Richmond Library feasibility study reveals sobering results
Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 23, members of the Friday Memorial Library Board joined Friends of the Library members along with Alderpersons Jim Zajkowski and Scottie Ard, City Administrator Mike Darrow and a number of curious residents in a conference room at the Civic Center to hear the eagerly awaited results of the Feasibility Study Report for the new library.
Consultant Karen Rose of Library Strategies wasted no time revealing the results of one phone and 25 face-to-face interviews conducted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 8, 2017. In total, 60 individuals had been identified by the Library Feasibility Study Committee as interview worthy. They were sent a letter of invitation signed by then Library Director Kim Hennings and Library Board President Gordon Granroth, requesting a face-to-face interview. The 60 people invited to interview were thought to be likely potential major donors and community leaders who could persuade others to make major capital donations.
According to Rose, the interviews were designed to solicit feedback and gauge commitment on eight topics. Those eight topics were:
• Assess the community's impression and awareness of the Library and the service it provides to New Richmond currently;
• Evaluate the fundraising capabilities of the Library's leadership;
• Determine the community's perception of the need for a new Library;
• Identify specific service areas and community needs that resonate with potential donors;
• Assess potential highlights or challenges to a successful capital campaign;
• Identify potential lead gifts necessary to launch a successful campaign;
• Suggest ideal leadership to champion and execute a successful campaign;
• Provide a framework for a campaign that responds to the community's capacity and willingness to support a Library capital campaign.
The actual presentation consisted of Library statistics (card holders, circulation, program attendance, and computer and wifi access), and conceptual renderings including what features and facilities would be part of the new Library. The consultant presented the full 28,000 square-foot library and budget of $16.6 million while noting the potential to build in phases. About $1.5 million currently exists in public funds, along with an additional unidentified $3 million projected in public funding, leaving a need for $12 million in private sector support.
The pitch also included a gift table.
"To do a $12 million private campaign, you'd need a $2 million lead gift, two $1 million dollar gifts, three half million dollar gifts, five quarter million dollar gifts, and ten $100,000 gifts. The study was focused on finding, 'Who do you know that could give at this level? Could you give at this level? Would you give at this level?' We were mostly interested in sniffing out 20 gifts in the six-figure and up range," explained Rose.
Based on data collected through the interviews, some key findings included:
• Interviewees generally held library staff in high regard, found them to be hard working, friendly and effective, but had considerably less familiarity with library board members and Friends of the Library members.
• Interviewees still equated the library with books and their principle use of the library was to pick up and drop off books.
"So there was little engagement with the library as important to their life except for picking up and dropping off books," Rose reported.
A handful of interviewees held a common opinion that the City does not listen. They felt that throughout this process including whatever had happened in the past, the City isn't really listening to the citizens about what they want.
Pertaining specifically to the philanthropic climate in the city, interviewees recognized that New Richmond has a long history of strong philanthropy and community investment, but that many of the prominent families and businesses responsible for that support, the legacy families, no longer reside in New Richmond.
Interviewees saw the passage of the school referendum as a source of pride and key to the future growth and development of the City.
According to Rose, nearly every interviewee prized collaboration and referred to it during the interview. However, they also perceived the library's approach to this project as siloed and even arrogant and felt the City and Library needed to demonstrate more collaboration specifically on this project.
Competitors for potential funds included the local hunger initiative and the hockey rink.
The case for giving
Interviewees agreed the existing library has inadequacies and challenges but did not feel like the need for a new Library has been clearly articulated. They also found the lack of interest expressed in repurposing the old Library building to be a real sticking point which will need to be addressed.
Interviewees agreed that literacy, both traditional and digital, remain fundamental to a well-educated and empowered community.
Finally, only a few interviewees saw the potential in a new library for creative, educational, cultural and social programing provided the space was available. And while most of the interviewees acknowledged that a library was essential to the health and development of a "vibrant community, few could articulate exactly what that meant for New Richmond."
With regard to campaign leadership, the names of several members of the feasibility study came up nearly unanimously, however, as they were part of the study, they did not express support for the project as it is currently presented. Rose acknowledged that earning their "buy-in" at some point will be important.
Potential financial support
After all of the data was studied, the sobering reality was that there is not nearly enough support to build a new Library on the scale of the one proposed.
"The proposal as presented with a $16 million building and a $12 million dollar private campaign is just too much. It was not seen as realistic. The town has never done anything like a $12 million private campaign. Most people suggested something in the range of $3-5 million and $5 million was considered a stretch. Only two people we identified said they would potentially be giving at that six-figure level. We were looking for at least that million dollar gift.
"There was quite a bit of strong emotional discussion about the Friday family name being attached to the old building. Specifically, if the naming rights to the new building were sold or given away, what would that say about how we honor naming rights. People felt like the City's participation was too low. It should be more like 50/50. At least 40-60 would signify that the city's invested in its own civic development," said Rose.
The study made a number of recommendations moving forward.
• Scale back the project to better align with a project budget of $8-10 million and a capital campaign goal of $3-4 million.
• Secure a stronger financial commitment from the City more in line with a 50-50 public-private ratio. That would mean the City would provide $4-6 million for the scaled back project.
• Identify a select number of community leaders to form a small Steering Committee charged with helping the Library define the scope and scale of the new building and identifying a path to funding from both public and private sources.
• Develop plans to repurpose the existing building in a manner that is publically transparent and engaging.
• Embark on a three-year strategic planning process focused on what happens inside the Library to produce:
• a) a plan for the Library,
• b) develop the "why" for a new building and,
• c) engage the community and organizational partners deeper as stakeholders, advocates and potential funders.
• Budget for and develop a marketing and communication plan to elevate awareness and support for the Library building project.
• Clarify and communicate a resolution with the Friday family regarding retaining or releasing naming rights to the existing Library building.
Once the project has been redefined and the City's participation secured, the Steering Committee should recruit campaign leadership and develop a campaign plan. The initial or "Quiet Phase" of the campaign should focus on legacy givers and potential for naming rights to honor past residents. Upon securing 80 percent of the campaign through lead and major gifts, the Public Phase of the campaign should commence to engage broad public participation.
"There's obviously some things in here that are eye-openers, but we also shot for the moon. It was, let's go big or go back to the drawing board. We've got great information on which to build. Let's bring in some of those folks who have expressed interest in being a part of this. Let's figure out who they are, see if there is an interest, and then come back in a month and begin building this," said Darrow.