CIP discussion: Library expansion

Andrew Carnegie

Last week’s worksession was all about the Safety Center; this week it’s the other Big Project: the Library expansion.

Northfield’s Public Library is a Carnegie Library, one of more than 2,000 libraries funded by one of my favorite robber barons, Andrew Carnegie.   The Carnegie Corporation provided a $10,000 grant back in 1908 to build Northfield’s library.  Almost all Carnegie libraries were built using  “The Carnegie Formula.”  A town needed to provide matching funds plus demonstrate the need for the library, furnish the land for the building, provide 10% of the construction cost for annual operating costs, and provide free service.

The Carnegie Foundation made a wonderful investment in Northfield more than 100 years ago; now Northfield has the opportunity to invest again by funding expansion of our Carnegie Library.

The Carnegie Formula is still relevant, too.

  • Carnegie’s philanthropy leveraged local investment to build libraries and fund their operation.  This time, the process works the other way – by investing public money – your tax dollars – the City will work to leverage additional private contributions – charitable donations, grants, etc. to make this project work.
  • Demonstrated need:  The Library Board has undertaken extensive long range planning and documented their facilities needs; these documents are available here.
  • Building site: Public input showed that the overwhelming preference was to expand on the current site downtown.
  • Operating funds: Current estimates of the expansion cost are around $10 million; the proposed library budget for 2010 is about $1 million – the relationship still seems to hold.
  • Free service:  The Library serves us all without prejudice by providing access to information – print, on-line, DVDs, Bookmobile, live programming – free of charge.   The return on our investment may not be as easily quantifiable as dollars and sense, but I believe the Library builds community in broad, deep and significant ways.   For but one example, check out Art Rolnick on early literacy and economic development.

OK, obviously I think the Library does good work, is a good investment,  and is a good deal.  What’s this mean for including a library expansion in the city’s capital improvement program?

1. Northfield has deferred investment in facilities and we are now faced with a Safety Center and Library which lack storage space, space for services and equipment, modern technology, meeting and training space, work space, easy access and egress, and parking.  Both are too small for the current size of the community and the facilities will soon impact the ability to deliver services.
2. The Library and the Safety Center both help the City provide vital city services. The physical condition of the current Safety Center pushes it to the top of the priority list, but both public libraries and public safety are both crucial.   When your house is burning you need a firefighter and not a book about the Great Chicago Fire.  On the other hand, when you need to find a job, learn who to vote for, help your children learn, and many other questions, you need the Library.

3. The City Council must provide clear, committed leadership for major capital improvements and our 2010-2014 CIP should include both the Safety Center and the Public Library as equally important facilities which are scheduled in a reasonable and timely sequence.  Looking ahead, the community deserves to know how to budget for 1) a new Safety Center (one or two buildings), 2) an expanded library, and 3) a renewed school operating levy in 2013 (because we do think about the other entities which impose tax burdens).

4. Clear direction for action will enable the Council and staff to take the next steps of planning for these facilities, help make seeking grants and private donations more effective  (see the Carnegie Formula above), and help the community understand City plans and their effects.

5. Other questions:

  • Referendum? I believe both these projects are needed;  I would like to see a referendum on both or neither, rather than playing them off each other.
  • Can we afford anything (now)? I’ve been accused of not getting it by David Ludescher over on Locally Grown.   Despite my positive statements about both the Safety Center and the Library above, I think about the dollar impact on individuals and on businesses of Council decisions, not just the big ticket items.   The City is in a lousy place right now.  We’ve overbuilt in the residential area putting the tax burden on too few commercial/industrial taxpayers (and these properties pay higher rates while using fewer services).  We’ve deferred maintenance and capital spending so now we must improve facilities or they will fail.  The governor has balanced his budget by cutting ours; we’ve cut back on staff and services and may cut more.   Because I believe waiting will only raise the price – both because construction costs and interest rates will rise and because other capital needs are on the horizon, I am in favor of moving ahead now.



5 thoughts on “CIP discussion: Library expansion

  1. Betsey: The reason that the City is overbuilt in the residential area is because Northfield is an attractive place to live. The same can’t be said for business.

    So why is the solution to spend more money on the library and the Safety Center? The library especially is a residential amenity. It doesn’t make sense to make Northfield an even more attractive place for housing, and a more burdensome place for businesses.

    The Mayor completely shocked the Chamber Board when she told us that the City might try to get in all their big spending projects before the school comes forward with another referendum. Her concern – taxpayers were unlikely to approve a big spending referendum of the City if they had just spent big money on the schools.

    So, no. I don’t think you get it. Creating even greater tax burdens does not help businesses. It is just going to create a bigger imbalance between residences and businesses. It will eventually drive us to look like Farmington, Lakeville, and Apple Valley.


    • The reasons the city is overbuilt in the residential area are (1) previous City Councils permitted it in 2000-2002 despite Planning Commission recommendations against and questions about the balance between commercial and residential property, and (2) it was profitable to do so.

  2. The larger question is: what is this City Council going to do to correct the imbalance? Building a bigger library or a bigger Safety Center isn’t going to help.

    The imbalance has to be corrected before more money is spent, otherwise the imbalance is just going to get greater as businesses struggle with the higher taxes.

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