Monday, November 24, 2008

Library Trustees: 'No Comment' on canceled renovation plans

by Chris Hart-Nibbrig

All but one member of the Lancaster Public Library Board of Trustees declined to respond to an opportunity afforded them by NewsLanc to explain the indefinite delay and effective cancellation of the Duke Street Library's planned renovation and addition project. They were assured their responses would be published.

Each board member and Executive Director, Debra Rosser-Hogben received the same written questions and request for comments, and several days in which to answer them, which later was extended by a week. Only Karen Haley Field, who resigned as President after the board voted down her proposal to continue with the renovations, answered NewsLanc's questions.

At a tense and rancorous October 28th meeting and after spending $600,000 on the project, the board voted 6-2 not to accept a $500,000 state Keystone grant and matching $500,000 private funding offer, and to delay proceeding with any portion of the $2,300,000 update and renovation. NewsLanc publisher, Robert E. Field, was project manager for the renovation and addition.




1) Early in 2008, did you vote to authorize the spending of approximately half a million dollars for plans and specs for the renovation and expansion of the Duke Street library? If not, why not?

"I voted in favor of spending for plans and specs last spring, because I fully expected that the Library would receive both the $2.5 to $3.5 million in RCAP funds and a $500,000 Keystone grant which had been applied for. Together, these provided a solid foundation on which to expand the Library's capital campaign beyond the few major prospects which had already expressed interest. The expected cost of the full project was $8 to $10 million. There was a vital need for renovations and an addition. In the unlikely case that the RCAP funding didn't come through, I still saw a need for plans and specs for the reasons noted in (2) below."

2) Upon learning from Mayor Gray at a board meeting that none of the $3.5 million in RCAP money that had been budgeted for the library would be forthcoming, did you approve of spending approximately $150,000 to complete $400,000 of architectural plans and specs for the renovation and expansion? If not, why not?

"I voted to complete the plans and specs for the renovation and expansion even though the RCAP didn't come through, for four reasons:

A) I was of the view that the Library desperately needed upgrading, and that the project would be accomplished within a few years. That said, we would need plans and specs sooner or later.

B) The Keystone Grant required bid specs to be filed by August 28, 2008. While losing the RCAP, the Board hoped to retain the Keystone by requesting an extension of the contract or permission to phase the project, with the Keystone applied to first phase renovations. If the bid specs were not completed on time, we would have forfeited any hope of getting the Keystone.

C) Our architects were already far along in the process of preparing bid specs for the Keystone Grant, and it would have been more disruptive and expensive to break up that team and resume at some unknown date with others than to have the existing team familiar with the Library complete the bid specs.

D) The Library's professional fund raisers had been adamant that advanced sketches and naming opportunities were necessary even in the early silent stages of a capital campaign."

3) At that same board meeting did you favor efforts to find a way to retain the $500,000 State Keystone Grant? If not, why not?

"I favored efforts to find a way to retain the $500,000 Keystone for these reasons:

A) It was a significant amount of money and there was no assurance that we could obtain such a grant in the future. They are awarded on a competitive basis.

B) The timeline for obtaining a Keystone and starting a project is lengthy. If we gave up the current grant and applied again in June 2009, the earliest we could commence construction would be after contract were signed in the summer of 2010.

C) The current Keystone would have reimbursed the bulk of architect fees of some $400,000 incurred this year.

D) The Keystone was a basic building block of funding. If we let it and the project go, we would also be giving up a private match. We would also be foregoing the likely contributions of other major donors who had agreed to support the larger renovation and addition project.

E) There would be no project now, renovations or otherwise, without the Keystone. The existing building is worn and weary, and in great need of upgraded electrical and mechanical systems, plumbing, lighting, an exterior entry ramp on Duke St., sprinkler systems and more efficient layout. The sooner these things got done, the better.

First, the proposed renovations would not increase operating costs. In fact, the plans included upgraded and more efficient electrical and mechanical systems and more efficient lighting as well as space reconfiguration to improve operating efficiency, security and accessibility. These might have even resulted in some cost savings.

Also, while I agree with the Board that the Library also needs to increase the visibility of the Library in the community, strengthen development and add to the Endowment fund, I feel that these could be undertaken while the Building project proceeded. The Board seemed of the opinion that they were mutually exclusive. In fact, the renovation would be a visible sign that the Library was taking decisive action to upgrade a long neglected facility and improve service standards for the community; this would earn the support of many donors who are reluctant to pour money into 'more or the same.' Also, these new donors would be likely to continue to support the Library with contributions to the Annual Campaign.

F) I had some concern that foregoing the Keystone at this late date after two years of delays including a previous change in scope would not sit well with the State and would disincline them to award us a grant in the future."

4) The renovation and expansion had been priced out over a six week period by Penncrest Construction Corporation through various contractors and suppliers. The cost of the renovation portion had been extracted from the various 'bids.' Did you doubt the accuracy of the Penncrest cost estimate? If so, what was the basis for your concern?

"I was comfortable with the estimate."

5) The state agreed that the $500,000 Keystone Grant could be utilized for the remodeling of the existing library as a stand alone project. There was a private $500,000 matching grant. $1.3 million would have been needed to complete the remodeling, $200,000 less if replacement of furnishings and fixtures were scaled back. There is more than $3 million in the endowment fund. Did you vote for or against proceeding with the remodeling of the existing facility? What were your reasons for the vote?

"I voted for the renovations. My reasons are expressed above. In addition, I was confident that private funds could be raised to pay for what was now a $2.3 million project. With the Keystone and match, we already had $1 million in hand. I was comfortable borrowing from the Endowment as needed to fund construction while funds were being raised and pledges being paid in over 3 to 5 years."

6) Do you believe that it will be possible to raise $8 million within the next three years to fund both renovation and expansion?

"I do not believe that the Library can raise $8 million in private funds within 3years. Private giving has been cut back due to the financial crisis, which I believe will continue to impact the economy for months if not years. The City, County and Municipalities we serve were themselves fiscally challenged even before the current economic crisis. The State has been our only hope for public funding, but that is in doubt now as the Rendell administration is being forced to cut back as well."

7) Have you held a leadership position in fund raising efforts? Please describe effort and your role.

"I have not had a direct leadership role in fundraising efforts, but as President of the Board, did bring a Development Professional onto the Board and started a Development Committee. I have met with several individuals in the community over the past several months to access support for the project. The Board also hired a Deputy Director mid-year to free up the Library Director so that she could spend time on fund raising."

8) What is your occupation?

"Not currently employed. [Mother of two youngsters.] Harvard MBA and Chartered Accountant formerly employed in the International planning department of a Fortune 100 company in NYC for 8 years and as VP acquisitions for an Irish holding company in NYC for 2 years. Served on YWCA Board for 7 years and have been on Project Forward Leap Board for several years."