Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EDITORIAL: Library the first victim of Convention Center funding

It is tempting to place the blame on board members for the Lancaster Public Library debacle this week whereby six members rejected a million dollars in public and private grants after spending $400,000 on plans and specs. Rather than proceed with the renovation of the library, they aborted the project because they feared not raising an additional $1.2 million over the course of the next year or two and were unwilling to borrow any shortfall from the library's large endowment fund.

But these are but ordinary citizens, suddenly involved in overseeing a major project, lacking experience and confidence in leadership, and, above all, not all sharing a passion for the undertaking.

Having spurned "half a loaf", they may yet prove their mettle by achieving both the renovation and the expansion within the next few years. We wish them well.

But the primary cause was the failure to receive $2.5 million in state RCAP funding that the library's representatives to Senator Gibson Armstrong had indicated was virtually assured. Indeed, the state budget called for the library to receive a $3.5million RCAP grant. Not a cent was forthcoming.

So where did the state money to renovate and expand the Duke Street library end up? Certainly Armstrong, powerful Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, did not allow it to escape our county.

Perhaps we need look no further for an answer to Armstrong's repeated trips to the state treasury to channel more and more state funds into the ever growing budget, now approaching $190 million, for the Convention Center Project of questionable merit.

So when the Convention Center opens next spring to pomp and grandeur, let's keep in mind that about 1500 Lancastrians visit the Duke Street library every day and suffer with a building from 1953 which, by and large, is in substandard and worn condition. If you have any doubts, try to find and then use a rest room.

The true cost of the Convention Center Project isn't just the plus or minus $180 million in grants and public guarantees plus the impediment it poses to downtown residential growth, but it also must be measured by essentials needs of the community that now and in the future will go unfunded.

Editor's note: The wife of NewsLanc's publisher was President of the Board of the Lancaster Public Library until the renovation was voted down.