Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Board scraps plans to renovate library

After over an hour of spirited discussion, the Board of Trustees of the Lancaster Public Library voted 6-2 to reject Board President Karen Haley Field's proposal that the library move forward with a renovation-only plan as opposed to its earlier intention to both renovate the existing building and add a two story, 18,000 square foot addition to the rear of the aging Duke Street facility.

Karen Field described her renovate-only proposal as a "fall back position" since "$2.5 to $3.5 million in State RCAP grants that had been anticipated for funding the complete project have not materialized, putting the feasibility of the full project in doubt."

Her proposal was to forego the addition for the time being and renovate only the existing space, including new bathrooms, an access ramp for the physically challenged from Duke Street, a fire sprinkler system, major repairs to mechanical systems, and replacement of furnishings and fixtures through most of the library.

The renovations were projected to cost approximately $2.3 million, start in March, and would be completed by December 2009.

She indicated a $500,000 State Keystone Library Grant was available provided the board agreed immediately to the reduce scope of the project, but otherwise the library would have to re-apply for a Keystone grant for 2010, without assurance of it being available. There was also on hand a private commitment for $500,000 as a matching grant that also would lapse.

She said remaining funds would be raised in a capital campaign with any shortfall borrowed from the endowment within the next year.

Board member Bob Miller said that he considers the period of time in which the board would have to raise the remaining funds "too slim." He added: "I've never seen a fundraising campaign work after-the-fact." Gary Weaver, also on the board, agreed. "Rushing into a renovation... would make it much more difficult to raise money for endowment [and] makes the whole project more difficult to accomplish," he said.

Karen Field and Robert Edwin Field, the project manager and publisher of NewsLanc, disagreed. Robert Field argued that project would draw attention to the library within the community and that a campaign to raise funds for the renovation of the existing building would generate new supporters, thus making it easier to raise funds for the later addition.

Karen Field said that it would not be the end of the world for the library to borrow part of the funds from its endowment in order to cover any shortfall.

Weaver at the outset of the meeting accused Karen Field of overstepping her authority by negotiating with the State to try to salvage the Keystone Grant by having it apply only to the existing building. Karen Field read excerpts from the minutes of prior meetings indicating authorizations to salvage the Keystone Grant.

In a heated moment, board member John Havrilla alleged that it was inappropriate for Karen Field to have sent out an alert to the press about Tuesday's meeting, without first sharing its contents with the other members of the board.

Karen Field response to such criticism was "If the press chooses to write an article regarding the Board's decision not to pursue the building project at this time, it can only bring more public attention to the difficult decisions the Library is forced to make due to funding concerns. And that is what we need."

Concern among the board about the state of the economy was used as an argument against moving forward.

On an average day, 1,500 Lancastrians visit the downtown library on Duke Street, making it one of the busiest libraries in the nation for its size. From September 2007 to September 2008, circulation has increased 19 percent, according to Executive Director Debra Rosser-Hogben.