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Combining with renovated high school a potential option for expanded SL library

Friday, November 16, 2012

Alternative options for the Storm Lake Public Library expansion project continue to emerge, including a combined, multi-use library at the renovated high school.

City Manager Jim Patrick asked library board members Monday afternoon if they would be interested in pursuing the idea.

"It's something we would have to ask the school board if they were interested," he said. "We successfully partnered with them for a shared librarian, so it might be possible to look at something more grandiose with combining facilities."

Patrick admitted a combined high school and public library could cause "logistical problems," but would be an effective and efficient way to update and increase the library's size.

Although trustees had not previously considered the possibility, they appeared to be receptive to Patrick's proposal. One noted a combined library would be a "nice way to share costs."

Joint libraries with education institutions are becoming more commonplace in small-town Iowa communities, including Alta and Emmetsburg.

After its library expansion bond failed to pass last August, the City of Carroll is currently pursuing a combined library with Des Moines Area Community College.

Storm Lake Board of Education members have yet to be formally approached with the idea, and Superintendent Carl Turner was unavailable for comment prior to press time.

Beau Ruleaux, Storm Lake High School Principal, said he had not heard about the idea prior to speaking with the Pilot-Tribune Wednesday afternoon.

"I have not heard it mentioned in discussions before," he said.

Conceptual drawings for the renovated high school have yet to be completed by newly-hired architectural firm DLR Group.

Sharing a library with students could pose a few problems.

With students extensively using the school library's materials and computers, sharing with the public during the morning and afternoon could prove difficult, Ruleaux pointed out, as well as maintaining and cleaning the shared library for the next school day as patrons browse in the evening.

As the district attempts to pass a $17.5 million bond next month for its high school renovation and auditorium project, simultaneously passing another bond for $7 million for public library expansion would be near impossible.

"With the school district in the process of bonding and us paying off AWAYSIS bonds over the next 10-15 years, there is not a whole lot left to give in tax dollars to pay for this (library expansion project)," Patrick explained.

FEH Associates drew up the multi-million library expansion plan in December, based on previously compiled needs assessments and feasibility studies.

After a three-day community charrette, architects unveiled a limestone and glass building double the size of the current location. A two-story addition was added on the north end of the block, as well as a new entryway and larger program room.

"It might be sellable, but looking at $7 million in the next seven to eight years, it's not going to happen; it can't happen, because of Project AWAYSIS debt," Patrick explained, noting the City only has a $5-6 million bonding capacity right now.

As a "pie-in-the-sky dream building," trustee Allison Emery said board members understood FEH's finished concept would be too expensive.

"It was not our intention to build it," she told Patrick. "We knew better."

Trustee Ryan Brandenberger agreed. "I honestly believe the consensus of this board is not that we got ahead of ourselves. It was a methodical, planned-out thing. While the public has taken the $7 million figure and said, 'Wow, that's ridiculous,' it's ridiculous in a way to us, too."

After taking a second look at the library's needs assessments and feasibility study, as well as seeking advice from renowned library consultant George Lawson, asking FEH to create a pared-down expansion in the future could be another option, Patrick said.

Strong public support will be needed for the expansion project, otherwise bond passage will not be successful.

"They (Carroll) did not get the public behind it (library project), supporting why they needed to grow and what it would look like," Patrick stated. "We would like to get it to a point of building that berm in the community, and then develop a plan from there."

Although I&S Group explored the possibility extensively earlier this spring, South School does not appear to be a viable option for a future library site.

"After the studies, we're not sure if it is a suitable location for the library," Patrick said. "It may be suitable to move Witter (Gallery) to give more room here...but I don't know if council, knowing the price tag of fixing South, would be in favor of going forward."

Feasibility studies indicated $1.2 million would be needed to make the 84-year old building move-in ready, and would not include remodeling costs, electrical/plumbing renovations and ADA updates.

With the Storm Lake City Council beginning its budgeting process for the coming fiscal year, library trustees unanimously approved re-submitting a capital improvements sheet for the expansion project. The project cost has been left blank for now, as trustees seek additional input.

Library Director Misty Gray said she is unsure how the project will progress in the future.

"Right now is a good time to look at the expansion and what we would like to see from the library," she told the Pilot-Tribune following Monday's meeting. "We will need to move forward from that point, but it's hard to see where that will lead us."



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