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Downtown Library 2012: Library Board Votes to Place Bond Proposal on November 6 Ballot

Tue, 07/17/2012 - 9:15am by josie

At last evening’s Board meeting, the Board of AADL voted unanimously to place a bond proposal on the November 6, 2012 ballot for $65 million to replace the Downtown Library at its current location. Attached are the Library Board's resolution, press release, the Facilities Committee's recommendation, and some Downtown Library Facts & Figures.

The Board will meet on Monday, July 30 at 7:00 PM to approve the language for the ballot. We appreciate the questions, feedback and the attendance of so many of you through this website, and at the community forums held earlier this summer. Your questions are important and helpful as the Board and staff moves through this very important phase in our Library’s history. Video of each of the three forums, held on June 9, 2012, June 12, 2012, and June 20, 2012, and a summary of the feedback from the public is available on the Director's Blog.

You may use this blog or send your questions to All questions will be addressed and answers posted to this blog.


Press Release:

For Immediate Release
July 17, 2012
Contact: AADL Board President Margaret Leary

AADL Board gives voters chance to decide on new downtown library

The Ann Arbor District Library Board voted Monday to put on the Nov. 6 ballot a proposal asking voters to approve $65 million for a new library building to be constructed on the site of the current Downtown library. The full board voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the Facilities Committee, which had been charged with examining the issue.

“Ann Arbor is a special community, built on knowledge – and our knowledge economy has served us well. The Ann Arbor District Library is a vital center for the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge,” said Board Chair Margaret Leary. “Our 1958 Downtown library building has done its job, seeing us into the 21st century. We are envisioning today a library that will serve us for another 60 years, providing flexibility to address changing knowledge delivery tools and the need for meeting facilities to ensure all residents of the community have access to information that will power our economy into the future.”

The Facilities Committee’s report reviewed the shortcomings of the current building, first constructed in 1958 and updated twice, most recently in 1990. It found the facility has inadequate capabilities for meeting patron needs for safe, quiet reading space, outdated heating and air conditioning systems, lacks sufficient meeting space for community events and large presentations, needs capacity for additional infrastructure to meet growing computer use, does not have space for children’s programming and services that reflect the needs of contemporary families and students, and does not have an auditorium. After reviewing renovation possibilities, the committee determined that a new facility built on the site of the existing building was the most cost effective solution.

The committee also reviewed a survey of district voters commissioned earlier this year. The survey found the community strongly values the downtown library and believes libraries today remain as relevant or more today than in the past, even with the development of ebooks, the internet and other technological advances. Downtown library use remains high, with an average of more than 600,000 yearly visits over the past five years. The average yearly number of library-­‐sponsored events at the Downtown library over the past four years was 441.

The board also sponsored three public information sessions, which allowed interested citizens to speak to the library Board and staff about children’s services, infrastructure, archives, programs, events, and a quiet reading area. Attendees asked questions and were able to give feedback about the current and future needs of the library.

“The board looked closely at building a new facility in 2008, but decided to shelve plans until the region’s economy improved,” said Facilities Committee Chair Prue Rosenthal. “The needs today are even greater, and now is the time for us to ask the community to support construction of a new library that can fulfill the community’s requirements for information in many forms for years to come.”

Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker said that if the proposal is approved, it will provide sufficient revenue to move key portions of the current library resources to a downtown location (which has not yet been determined), provide access to the balance of the collection online through requests, build the new facility, and move into the new building.

“The citizens of the district will make the final determination,” said Parker.“From crawling babies, texting teens, university professors and students, to the grandmother who plays the summer game with her grandchildren, the library matters in our community. Library services come from and bring people together in built spaces. The current building has brought us together and delivered library services to us for 54 years. The building’s infrastructure limitations and form are constraining the delivery of what this community expects from its library. This new century with unexpected and unimagined changes, and more to come, provides us the opportunity to give forward with a new Downtown library.”

Facilities Commitee Recommendation:

July 6, 2012

AADL Facilities Committee recommendation to the AADL Board:

It is the recommendation of the Facilities Committee that a bond proposal for $65 million for the replacement of the Downtown Library building at its current location at Fifth and William be placed on the November 6, 2012, ballot. This recommendation will be brought forward at the July 16 Board meeting of the AADL with an accompanying resolution.

On April 16, 2012, this Committee was charged to gather information needed to make recommendations to the Board about AADL’s facilities, including but not limited to a review of information gathered in the past about the condition of the Downtown building.

Our work included a review of planning and study documents dating back to 2007, as well as a review of the history of the building and its two renovations, the last of which was completed in 1990. The current facility comprises 110,000 square feet over 5 floors.
We found that the decision to suspend the project in 2008 due to the severe economic downturn in the state and nationally was prudent; however, the work that had been done prior to that decision was comprehensive and forward-thinking in ways that greatly facilitated the deliberations of this Committee.

The Board of AADL adopted a strategic plan in 2010 that stated clearly in its Strategic Initiative VI, Facilities Goal 1: Renovate or replace the downtown library with attention to the condition of the existing building; tax base; revenue stream; development of surrounding properties and demographics. In March of 2012, the Board commissioned an EPIC-MRA telephone survey that
included questions that specifically queried voters’ willingness to fund a replacement or renovation of the Downtown Library through a bond proposal. The results of this survey were positive enough to lead the Board to form our Committee and to begin a community discussion about the Downtown Library.

Since April, we have reviewed the EPIC-MRA survey results, participated in the three community forums held at the Downtown Library, reviewed the Providence Report from 2007, and had the 2008 cost estimates reviewed and confirmed.

We have made the following findings:

• Our community continues to feel that the Ann Arbor District Library’s Downtown location is a vital hub to our community. In conversations with community leaders, they are virtually unanimous in supporting steps to ensure our library can meet the needs of this community for the next 50 years.

• Our community believes that the downtown library remains as relevant – or more so – today as in the past, regardless of the development of the internet, ebooks or other technological developments.

• Use of the downtown library continues to be extraordinarily high. The average number of yearly visits to the Downtown Library over the past five years was 606,173. The average yearly number of library-sponsored events Downtown for the past four years was 441.

• Our examination shows that the building has been well maintained given its age. Many of the flaws now visible are
the inevitable result of age, changing technologies and shifting needs and interests of the public. While ADA compliant, the building is grandfathered, and does not present the public with universal access.

• A key message that the staff and the public, through the forums and conversations, have brought to this Committee is an understanding that the building in its current form constrains service implementation. Decisions are made around the building’s room sizes and configuration. We can go on as we are, but we cannot do more -- and more is what our community is expecting of us and is saying to us, too.

• Among the key shortcomings that have become increasingly evident are:

o We do not have a children’s room that reflects the modern family’s use of a public library.

o The library’s current configuration does not lend itself to efficient use of staff to maintain a presence in all public areas of the facility, creating security concerns. A more efficiently laid out library could reduce operating expenses, or allow staff to be utilized in ways that better serve the public.

o AADL has a national and international reputation for its use of technology in public library service delivery. The need for cabling will not go away with advances in WiFi, and this building is as technologically enabled as it can be. It is important to remember that technology delivers to our patrons, and it is a backbone in a modern library system. Our ability in the current facility to add more cable is severely constrained. Additional cable capacity is vital to ensure that our patrons, those who visit the Downtown library physically and virtually @, have satisfactory online experiences with the Library.

o We do not have an auditorium at all, much less one that can seat the size audiences that Ann Arbor can and does draw.

o Our community likes to meet and talk together and the public library remains a space that is trusted and known to welcome all comers. That we are a first choice of a meeting space for many groups is not a surprise, and we should be. What we cannot do is meet the demand or to even come close and we should be able to do that, too. We expect that demand to increase, as citizens and organizations look for spaces to meet face to face for community events, planning, tutoring and other vital activities. In the past three years, there has been a 21.8% increase in the number of occurrences of outside organizations who book rooms Downtown for non- library sponsored events, rentals or events. The total number rose to 363 occurrences for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

o The Ann Arbor News Archive is currently housed offsite and is not publicly accessible because there is not space Downtown, nor are we able Downtown to control the environment for this archival collection.

o Last but not least, there is the book and reading. The public has told us we need a modern quiet reading room, to provide the quality experience they demand. They also have made it clear that the library must do everything technologically that it needs to do to meet the needs of the community – but not sacrifice the book. We recognize that books will take up less and less space over the course of this century, but we still have them in the hundreds of thousands, and will house them in a new library.

• Our review found that the 2008 cost estimates are accurate for today’s construction market. At that time a new 160,000 square foot building would cost $71 million and a project renovating the 1990 portion of the building and replacing the 1958 building with a four-story addition would have cost $65 million. These estimates included the costs associated with moving out, operating in temporary locations, and moving back into the new library. The difference is less than 10%. There are clearly economic benefits, long-term and short- term, for building now.

The committee also took our financial practices into consideration when making this recommendation. The AADL does not levy the full millage allowed by the voters, and has not done so for several years. We levy 1.55 mills, but could levy 1.93 mills. Because there is a voted operating millage in perpetuity that will cover the operational costs of any new facility, as evidenced by our branch building experience, we do not need to ask the voters for an additional operating millage. Ann Arbor has historically valued and funded a library system that reflects the community’s standards for education, learning, and literacy. Since 1866 when the Ladies’ Library Association opened the first public circulating library in Ann Arbor, those fortunate enough to be in positions to secure a positive future for the library have done so. Sometimes the choices were clear; other times, not so clear. They were always important and rarely without controversy.

In 2012, the decision to replace the building rather than to replace a portion of the building and renovate the remainder is another critical decision point for the leaders and citizens of the Ann Arbor community. Placing a bond proposal on the November ballot, at a time of the highest turnout of voters, will give citizens an opportunity to move their library forward, once again into a new
century and into a technological age that Andrew Carnegie could not have envisioned in detail. Mr. Carnegie would recognize the mission of access to knowledge and a place to bring together ideas and thought into discussion, and eventually into action. The people of Ann Arbor know well the value, economic and social, of such a mission.

Whether it is for an individual taking an online test in order to apply for a job, or a difficult community discussion on race relations in 2012, storytime for preschool children, a maker fair, comic convention, exhibits, individual study and research, or public meetings, the Library Board can say that it is reasonable to construct and operate a new facility designed as best possible to meet the needs of the community for 2012 and for 2062.

Downtown Library Facts & Figures

Downtown Library Basement:
24,750 square feet
Multipurpose Room: capacity 135, often 160+ attendees
No drinking fountains
No Public Computer
2 public toilets, none accessible

Downtown Library Ground Floor:
28,875 square feet
Story Corner: capacity 60, often 100+ attendees with strollers
2 2-seat study rooms
8 catalog stations, 12 kids game computers, 5 kids internet stations
2 drinking fountains
6 public toilets, 1 accessible

Downtown Library Second Floor:
27,225 square feet
2 8-seat study rooms
6 catalog stations, 35 internet stations, 3 assistive technology stations
1 drinking fountain
4 public toilets, none accessible

Downtown Library Third Floor:
16,500 square feet
Freespace Meeting Room: capacity 32, only available quarterly due to demand
2 1-seat study rooms
1 catalog station, 15 training lab computers
No drinking fountains
No public toilets

Downtown Library Fourth Floor:
16,500 square feet
Conference Room A: capacity 24, with kitchen, fixed configuration.
Meeting Room: cap. 220, fixed configuration for public meetings
No public computers
1 drinking fountain
4 public toilets, none accessible

Downtown Library Totals:
113,850 square feet (approximate)
4 small study rooms, total capacity 6
2 medium study rooms, total capacity 16
2 medium meeting rooms, total capacity 56
1 program room, capacity 135
1 large meeting room, capacity 220
13 catalog stations
42 internet stations
12 kids game computers
15 training lab computers
3 assistive tech computers
4 drinking fountains
16 public toilets, 1 accessible

• The Downtown Library averages over 600,000 annual visits, about 1,700 visitors per day.
• The Downtown Library averages over 1,000,000 annual checkouts: 32% of total AADL checkouts.
• The Downtown Library holds a collection of over 344,000 items, about 56% of AADL’s total collection.
• The Downtown Library serves over 75,000 annual internet sessions, about 30% of AADL’s total.
• Since 2009, a 21% increase in use of meeting rooms by outside organizations; 364 such uses,about one every day in 2011-2012.
• AADL produces over 500 downtown events per year for a total of over 26,000 attendees.


Instead of building a totally new building, it would be great to RE-USE an existing building in a good location- such as the old Borders/Jacobsons building. That location needs a strong anchor, people miss being able to browse books there when it was Borders, the surrounding businesses miss having the spillover from Borders (and probably from Jakes, too) so why not double the impact?

timjbd, it seems to me that purchasing a new site, when AADL already has a downtown site, makes no sense. That seems like administrative and legal nightmare: purchasing a new site when they already have one, regardless of whether it fits or could be made to fit stated needs. It's not the library's responsibility to replace Borders by way of being an anchor for the Liberty/State area, in any case.


Wonderful news. Our homeless population will love having a brand new day-shelter. They sure do deserve it. And how convenient that it's night next to their new underground motel.

4 public toilets, none accessible. I dont get it, im confused.

You may be right--it DOES need a strong anchor. But how would that work?

i know right? about time.

they need to have axis coffeehouse back

wow, 500 downtown events per year for a total of over 26,000 attendees!!

I'm totally in favor of it, but for the love of all that's holy, PLEASE don't use the same architects you used for the Traverwood branch. That building is perfectly hideous. "Eyesore" doesn't even begin to describe it. Having said that, I will miss the old Downtown building. I know it has to be replaced, but I have fond memories of my mother taking me there when I was a child. :) Everything must change though. I hope it passes.

I liked the Traverwood building. The wooden theme was nice. If you have to replace the Downtown library, build it as large as Traverwood, maybe combined with Pittsfield tech. Hopefully make it more organized

In reply to by nasuaada

A bond is like a loan. This kind of bond is called a municipal bond. The library borrows the money for a period of time at a fixed interest rate. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and U.S. and foreign governments to fund a variety of projects and activities. Hope this helps. :)

That's outrageous, the price and the idea. Renovate, keep it where it is, make the bathrooms handicap accessible, whatever, but that's an ungodly amount of money from a county has a city 2nd in the state for bank foreclosures (Ypsi) and where Ypsilanti can't fix their roads, and now may be cutting our fire and police men (Yay! less safety!) because there isn't enough money.

Then again I can't seem to find if it would be coming from the city or the county, and I'm thinking it might be the city in which case go for it, Ann Arbor always makes the right choice to use 70 million dollars for a new upgraded building then helps it's neighbors who are struggling to survive...sorry about the rant, just disgusted at the moment.

And to whomever was complaining about the homeless.....don't knock it till you try it. Stop looking down on a less fortunate population. There are people everyday everywhere who fall through the cracks. You can be kind and thank God that obviously you aren't put in that position.

Thanks to all of you for the comments. Currently, there is not an architect selected for this proposed project. The architectural selection process will be considered and recommended by the Facilities Committee of the Board. However, a selection will not be made before the November elections.

jjdijkstra81, the AADL is an independent unit and not part of the governments of the cities of Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti, and is not part of County government. This bond if approved would have no financial impact on the citizens of Ypsilanti. The boundaries of the AADL are the same as the boundaries of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, excepting that portion that is within Northfield Township.

The general economic condition within the area is a concern for all of us, however, the financial practices of the AADL are separate from those of other public services that you mentioned. Historically, the library has not levied the full amount of tax that the citizens of the library district have authorized through a public vote. The exception was a period of time when the new branches were being constructed. The AADL did not incur debt during the construction of those branches. The citizens within the district will have the option to vote on this $65 million dollar bond proposal.


"Historically, the library has not levied the full amount of tax that the citizens of the library district have authorized through a public vote." ~ Just another reason the AADL rocks !!!


This question was received through

The Facilites Committe's recommendation includes a mention of 2008 cost estimates for both a partial replacement of the Library and for full replacement. Two questions. Where can those cost estimation reports be viewed? Was any 2008 cost estimate done for the 2007 Providence study's Option #1, which was for small expansion and general remodeling/renovation? Thank you for your help in answering these questions.

Here is the response:

The estimates are not related to the Providence Report, but are from work done after the Library Board contracted with Luckenbach|Ziegelman for architecture and Skanska for construction. LZ did a thorough review of the options for the Board complete with public presentations, and that was when that original decision was made to stay on the current site and to build a new building. The estimates were for the option to build new on the site, and an option that would gain as much of the developed program as possible if the 1990 portion of the building was completely renovated and the 1958 portion replaced by a four story addition. The difference in the costs of these two options are what Library Board members and our documents are referencing.

An estimate for the 2007 Providence Option #1 was not done in 2008.

We will post a document that shows the 2008 cost estimates to our website today.

Thank you for your interest, and let me know if you need more information.



This comment was received through

What a joke! Why bother to ask for community input when the decision was already made. I will vote against this ridiculous usage of tax money. The central library is a dead concept. What should be improved are the remote sites. How about more parking at the Pittsfield location? I’ve now lost complete faith in the library directors. Clearly you’ve become just another bureaucracy that only wants to grow its importance, especially for the directors.

~Alan Knaus

This is the response:

Mr. Knaus,

Thank for your input, and I am sorry that you felt that this process did not give you an opportunity prior to the Board vote on July 16. You, and the many others who will be voting in November, will make this decision. While we clearly disagree with you that the central library is a dead concept in Ann Arbor, you are right that libraries must adapt and change, and our branch system thrives because the Downtown library is central to their operations.

It is not possible to add parking at Pittsfield branch because of the building's proximity to Malletts Creek and a wetland area. If you have other concerns about the library system and its operations, please don't hesitate to call me. I will be glad to speak with you. My number is 327.4263.


Josie Parker

What I want to know is when are we going to get a new West branch library? All the other branch libraries have been rebuilt with fancy “green” and high-tech features while the West Branch has just been seemingly left to languish in a too-tiny strip mall location. There’s plenty of land nearby that could by used for a new branch library. How come every single other branch AND the main library are getting expensive overhauls but no one has even mentioned improvements to the West branch? As a taxpayer who lives on the west side, it's hard not to feel snubbed...


Please do not feel snubbed. There has not been a decision to abandon any thought toward building a branch in the northwest portion of the district. The pressure that the use of the new branches placed on the Downtown building ( due to increased use of ALL of the buildings, including Westgate) combined with the difficulties posed by an aging facility built in three parts over 54 years, did change the priorities of the Board regarding the building plan. The focus is now on the Downtown building.

Our management of Westgate, combined with that of the management company we lease the space from, is a continual effort. The AADL built an addition and renovated existing space at Westgate in the early 90's and has since refurbished the space again with carpeting, furnishings, technology, better lighting, and some new shelving. We currently work hard to keep that small space as clean and functional as possible, and we are pleased that use of Westgate has also increased along with every other location in the system.

Thanks for asking about Westgate.


This comment is from
Dear Library People,
Please, if you renovate the library, offer more places for college students to study. I found the amount of tables with outlets for laptop plug-ins to be very lacking. More group study rooms would be awesome too. Additionally, perhaps you could offer more 'comfy' chairs (maybe near windows?) for folks wanting to just sit down and read. Finally, your online catalog is very difficult to use when searching for specific CDs or artists. These are merely suggestions for the future. I could also provide you with an entire list of accolades...but those aren't the comments you're seeking right now. Anyway the library is great, I just hope you can make it even better!
Thanks for your time,
Brianna Knoppow
Ann Arbor

This is our response:

Thank you very much for your comment. We are hoping to provide many more study spaces for college students, high school, adult learners, and elementary school students, too. Your description of what is needed is very helpful and confirms what we are hearing from other library users.

We appreciate that you have a list of accolades, too, but you are right, those are for another day.


Josie Parker

I would like to say one thing in favor of tiny library branches in malls, such as the West branch: they encourage and facilitate library usage among populations who might not seek out the library in a special, freestanding building. I had occasion to walk past a branch of the Flint library located in a mall a few years ago, and it was bustling! I think it's great. I have also had out of town visitors admire Ann Arbor for having libraries in malls as a mark of distinction. I understand the desire to have larger spaces, but I do think small branches serve a purpose, especially as the Bookmobile no longer exists.

I would also like to enthusiastically state that I (and my children) love the downtown library's children's area. It is vastly better than the children's areas in other libraries, most particularly because it has its own space, which allows children to be noisy without disturbing other library users. The division in the children's area between play spaces and reading areas is also quite helpful. It's really a wonderful space. I wish the teen area were so nice.


Thank you for your comments and support of the library. We are very glad that you use the library with your children. I also appreciate that you can point out the advantages for spaces designed for children and the need to separate them from spaces designed for quiet and other purposes.


I think we are very lucky to have a library system here that is at the forefront of the global discussion about what libraries <strong>are going to be</strong> going forward.

This proposal sounds very well considered and exciting. I'm particularly excited by the possibility of having a ~400 seat auditorium on the site, which I think would be a fantastic community resource and an important component of the evolving role of the library as a public space. Events like Ignite Ann Arbor, The Story Collider, and other events which bring people together in the physical world for a shared experience require such facilities to contain them. In the internet age, such face-to-face interaction is more important than ever. Providing additional public facilities of this nature will be an important contribution to growing Ann Arbor as a vibrant and intellectually fertile city.

-Ryan Burns

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