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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Library Board grows frustrated, 'caught' between two plans

Friday, July 13, 2012

Library officials want a chance to pare down the $7 million expansion plan created by their architect in late 2011, and say their patrons are urging them not to accept a proposed move to old South School.
For the Storm Lake Library Board volunteers, a chapter of uncertainty is rapidly becoming frustrating.

It has now been seven months since the board contracted with an architect to draw up an ambitious plan for expanding the library, with city approval and community input.

City officials changed gears earlier this year and decided to investigate moving the library into the vacant former South School building, without library board approval. Now that plan also seems to be in limbo, with a new architect drawing up three completely different concepts for South - an arts center, a business center - and only one of the plans mentions library space.

Library Board President Mary Kay Hudspeth says the library proponents feel "caught" between the two plans, neither of which seem to be advancing at the moment. "It's kind of a directionless feeling that we're getting from the city. We have no idea where we stand - we wish someone would tell us."

"We talk about it all the time, but we still don't know what the plan really is," she said of the library board. Witter Gallery officials are also growing nervous, not knowing if they might be out of their space at the library under some form of plan, she said. "We are not trying to edge them out - they just don't know what is happening any more than we do," she said.

While the library board has tried to be open to all available options, the board's opinion has been firm that the library should not be moved.

"If worst comes to worst, we won't budge. We'll just say forget the whole thing and stay with what we have," Hudspeth said.

Still, the library board has no official control of the library facility. If city government was to insist on moving the library to South, Hudspeth says she can foresee board members resigning in protest, a "scary" situation, she feels.

"The overwhelming comment that we are hearing from the public patrons at the library is, 'Don't do it - don't move this library,'" she said.

A major frustration is that the board has never had a chance to address the plan drawn up by the original architect, a specialist in library development.

The plan came in for a nearly $7 million design, expanding the library footprint to the north end of the block, adding a second story mezzanine level to host the adult department. The plan featured cozy fireplace reading areas, a large community meeting room that could be broken down into smaller spaces, a children's programming room, four quiet study rooms, a new young adult section, a teen zone and children's area with its own themed entry zone, and a larger computer lab.

The plan had an immediate sticker shock.

"We knew the city couldn't afford a $7 million project - we knew that going in. This was an ideal - we realized we would have to pare it down to the real needs and we have been willing to do that. But we never got that chance," Hudspeth said. "The city saw that $7 million pricetag, and that was that."

When the city began looking at South as a library space, they chose to use an architecture firm with limited experience with such a project, she said, another sharp concern to the library board, which was not given a chance to be heard on the issue.

At the meeting where it was decided to hire I&S Group engineering firm to look at South as the potential library site, Hudspeth said there was no opportunity given for public comment. "It went right a vote. I stood up and said I wanted to speak, but nobody would look me in the eye."

Using the same firm that had drawn up the expansion plan, FEH Associates, would have provided an "apples to apples" comparison of the two options, she feels. Still, library officials did their best to help the chosen architect firm for South to view the situation. The plan calls for the interior of the former school to be gutted and opened up, with the library occupying most of two floors.

"Our architectural firm (FEH) is very dissappointed, very frustrated, that another architect came in and didn't look at what the people want, as was done in the original process. We are very concerned about it," Hudspeth said.

A pared-down expansion is still the best option, the library board president feels, but the board has been given no indication of what, if anything, is going to happen now.

Until the city has some direction for them, they continue trying to move forward - determining the community's needs and how best to respond with the resources and space they have, she said.

Two evenings in August have been set aside for planning sessions, with the city's blessings. Representatives of various segments of the Storm Lake population are being invited in to take part on August 8 and 29, and a well-known library specialist will serve as consultant for the process.

This will not be a debate about the building or where the library will end up, she said, but a chance to determine the library's role in the future of the community. The result will be more documented information on what the people would like to see from their library, and new motivation to achieve it.

"We hope to learn that the people of Storm Lake see the library as I see it, an important part of our future. People want gathering places - well, here we are."

Also, three new members will be joining the library board, a level of change seldom seen. They will bring new blood and new ideas, Hudspeth says.

When asked if either plan for the library was advancing, City Manager Jim Patrick said, "not right now."

However, additional concept information on a potential South school project has been requested from I&S and should arrive within about a week. "This information will be presented at the August 6th city council meeting for the council to look at and try to make a decision (between the three different concepts for South)," he said. Any potential for an expansion of the existing library will probably remain on hold until the council has decided on a potential South project, he added.

Patrick said paring down a potential expansion is an option that will probably need to be looked at eventually. However, the architect noted during one meeting that time is money - the more the delay, the more likely that the cost of materials and construction will rise substantially.

It is a decision that can't be rushed, the city manager opines. "We want to look at all the alternatives. When you start talking about spending this kind of money, you have to consider every option carefully - you have to protect the taxpayers' dollars, and make sure you're doing the right thing."

One thing that everyone can agree in is that the city and its library leaders will need to work cooperatively if they are going to solve space limitations - a problem so severe that an expert consultant brought in earlier determined that a city with the size and needs of Storm Lake should have double the library square footage.

"We are not standing in the way of progress by any means," Hudspeth says.

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