Update on library expansion plans from board member Margit Johnson

Margit Johnson, member of the Northfield Library board, attached a comment to last week’s Locally Grown podcast post and Ross suggested that we elevate her remark to a blog entry. What Ross wants, Ross gets, so here ’tis. (Photo of Margit is one I took of her when she was much younger. Please note that this update is not available on the city’s $85,000 website; however, the May, 2006 library space needs update is.)

margit johnson Thanks to Tracy’s persistence on the Oct. 17 podcast, asking about the state of the public library. This is one of several issues that is suffering from City Hall dysfunction and distraction.

As a member of the Library Board I can offer this update:

  • The expansion of our 12,000 square foot library has been on the Capital Improvement Project list for over 8 years.
  • Two years ago the library retained Bob Rohlf, an experienced library consultant who worked on the 1985 expansion when the public library grew from its original 4,000 square feet to its current 12,000 square feet. He assessed the library’s facility and services for a modestly projected population of ca. 38,000 residents (Northfield and the northern half of Rice County) for the next 20 years.
  • Mr. Rohlf submitted a report to the Library Board in the fall of 2005. The report leaned heavily toward a 32,000 square foot library all on one level for the sake of efficiency and flexibility.
  • The then new city administrator asked the Library Board to step back from more active planning (for a levy referendum in the fall of 2007, among other things) so that he could conduct a city-wide municipal space-needs assessment. The Library Board did that, supporting his interest in getting all the big pieces on the table for the benefit of the taxpayers.
  • That space needs assessment by Hay-Dobbs is now in its second phase with 7 possible scenarios still in play. The first two scenarios explore the library in its current location but expanded toward or through Third Street. Mr. Rohlf recently reviewed the sketches included in the Hay-Dobbs draft report, submitted to the City Council in late September 2007, and found the sketches woefully wanting in terms of the adjacencies that he had recommended two years earlier. “Adjacencies” being an in-house term for services and facilities within the library being close to one another to enhance efficiencies and best practices. In short, Mr. Rohlf still favors a 32,000 square foot library on one level, preferably somewhere else in town.
  • The Library Board is committed to the identified space needs in the Rohlf report (very few of those square feet are “mere” wants) if the library is to serve this community for the next 20 years. We understand that it may take a Very Creative Solution to expand the library on the current site. But we have heard from many, many residents that Third and Washington/Division is the preferred location.
  • So the Library Board passed a motion in August 2007, to submit a resolution to the City Council. The resolution would acknowledge that both the NDDC and the Arts and Culture Commission have submitted letters of support for the Library Board’s request for permission to issue a Request for Proposal to three architectural firms to explore the feasibility of expanding the library on its current site with the appropriate interior adjacencies. As of the October 2007 board meeting the chair of the Library Board had not yet submitted the resolution to the City Council.
  • When that resolution is entered into the public record, and with every hope that the Council will endorse the need to gather more information about the feasibility of the current site, the Library Board has every hope to receive what Ross calls “solution concepts” and share them widely with the community for input, suggestions, and additional ideas.
  • With that information the Library Board will be in a much stronger position to formulate a recommendation for an expanded library, in sequence with the other municipal facilities in need of expansion and/or construction, that will actually serve the growing needs of a growing city.
  • Meanwhile, the next discussion that the Library Board will need to share with the community is how to make the current library work for the next 3+ years, assuming the most optimistic timetable for levy approval, design and build. Right now for every new book that comes into the library, another book must be tossed out for lack of shelf space. Children’s book groups are meeting in the library director’s office for want of adequate meeting room space.

The Library Board meets the third Tuesday of the month in the [one] meeting room in the public library. The meetings are open to the public, and we would welcome all interested, frustrated, or impatient citizens to join us in pressing onward in spite of news coming out of City Hall.

20 thoughts on “Update on library expansion plans from board member Margit Johnson”

  1. Thanks, Griff, for posting Margit’s comments. Once again, here’s where the city communication has broken down. This recap priceless. Shouldn’t it be disseminated outside the blogosphere?

  2. Is Ms. Johnson’s update not on the city website because it was rejected, or because the library board has not posted an update since 2006? And has the report been submitted to Northfield.org or the News?
    It seems before we blame City Hall again, it might be good to see what has been requested.
    For the record, I’m not opposed to a downtown library. Stillwater just did a nice renovation of a library on a tricky hillside site in a crowded downtown.
    I am concerned, however, that in the last year since the report was discussed, there still has been no definitive study or survey to determine the impact of the location of a new library on downtown and on its users.
    For example, there is a broad assumption that the library is a key to the success of downtown, but is there any data that shows how many people who come to the library make other stops downtown? What is the financial impact of the library? And, since the library serves the entire northern half of Rice County, as I recall, how is the benefit to downtown balanced against the needs of all library users.
    Has the retail strategies committee put numbers on how all the components of downtown contribute to its success? How much impact will an additional 100 or 200 library visitors a week make if they shop here? And how much of an impact will they make if they take up parking spaces and don’t shop?
    A survey doesn’t have to be a large, expensive one done by an outside consultant. There are many ways to get a simple survey done. Merchants can ask customers if they are going to the library on their downtown trip. The library can ask clients for the same information. A concerted effort for a couple of weeks should be enough to get a general idea. Perhaps college students in a statistics class can help with setting up and analyzing the data.
    If the library has a giant economic impact and the location is not inconvenient to rural users, wonderful. But should rural users travel further for a compromise design that generates only marginal economic benefit for a small group of businesses? Maybe…
    I know this has been discussed for eight years, but even the consultant isn’t sold on the current site. Perhaps moving City Hall to that site and building a larger one-story library/conference center/arts center on the City Hall block would create much more impact on downtown by facilitating business meetings, events, theater, classes and other activities that won’t fit in a more constrained design on the current site. Swapping the civic ‘bookends’ to downtown could help everything in between.
    Again, I am not opposed to a downtown library…I’d just like to be able to discuss all the options and compare them objectively without people being accused of hating downtown. Who knows, having an open mind just might lead to a better solution for downtown — and everyone else.

  3. “Mr. Rohlf recently reviewed the sketches included in the Hay-Dobbs draft report, submitted to the City Council in late September 2007, and found the sketches woefully wanting in terms of the adjacencies that he had recommended two years earlier. “Adjacencies” being an in-house term for services and facilities within the library being close to one another to enhance efficiencies and best practices.”

    I think too much weight is being put on the Hay-Dobbs sketches. In the presentation, care was taken to point out that the sketches were simply to make it pretty and show that x amount of square feet of various uses does, technically, fit in an x-sized building. The x-sized building was necessary to estimate construction costs, so various project possibilities could be compared. To put read anything more into the report is to read too much into the report.

    The report, in fact, supported many of the benefits of keeping the library downtown.

    The benefits of having the library downtown have been stated many times, but to add: a downtown library serves more of the Northfield population. It places the library where people can easily access it using the modes of transportation they are already used to using.

    It seems apparent that the majority of people used to walking/biking to their destinations are concentrated near downtown where there is a concentration of walk/bike friendly establishments. It also seems apparent that those who live further from downtown are more likely to feel comfortable driving to their destinations, since they moved to areas that do not have a preponderance of walk/bike friendly establishments within an easy walk/bike friendly distance.

    By placing the library outside of downtown, it no longer fits within the traffic pattern of many Northfield walkers/bikers. In fact, it could make the library downright inaccessible to those who do not have easy access to motorized transportation. I, for one, come downtown and, if I drive, park once and walk everywhere; going to the NCRC, Target, etc. is terribly inconvenient for me, and I only go there when absolutely necessary. The non-downtown library would not add much benefit to the motorized population, except maybe less traffic and, on high-traffic days like DJJD, easier parking*.

    Alternatively, a downtown library does fit within the existing traffic patterns of most motorized and non-motorized Northfielders. For those motorized people who do not have the downtown within their existing traffic pattern, a driving traffic pattern is relatively easier to adjust than a non-motorized pattern.

    It also supports a vibrant downtown with a wide variety of options — allowing many, like some friends of mine, to live for years in a three-by-eight block area. This area that allows for and even encourages non-motorized transportation allows and even encourages diverse human interaction. This diverse human interaction creates the community feel that draws many, myself included, to the community.

    *I rarely find it difficult to park downtown, and rarely have to walk much further than I would parking at Target or the like.

  4. I, too, would prefer to see the public library remain downtown, where it has been for nearly 100 years. I value the state-of-the-art library services it provides, as well as the connection its historic building provides to Northfield’s past. But the most important function of a library is, obviously, to serve its users with the best resources available. If the current building can no longer do this effectively, and if expansion at the current location is impractical, then other options need to be explored. But I would hope, in that case, that the historical Carnegie library building would be preserved for some active civic use—turned over to the Northfield Arts Guild for readings, concerts, and exhibition space, for example. I would hope that Northfield can find a way to meet its current needs, while preserving and reanimating important links to its past like the Carnegie library. I would also hope that a new library would not just be plopped down on available land, but integrated into some broader vision of the community that includes, for example, the values of walkability and “diverse human interaction” that Alex mentions.

  5. I would very much like to see the library downtown, even if this costs extra to accomplish. I remember the noticable reduction in reading material in 1985, when the library was further away, and I would not care to repeat it.

    A good library is worth its weight in gold, assuming you didn’t make the library too heavy for the comparison to work. I’d really like to see this move forward, but I’m not opposed to spending a bit of time sanity-checking things; do we really have the right size of building? Would a little extra space be useful? Is it handicap-friendly? The current location, beautiful though it is, and much though I love the building, is not exactly conducive to convenient wheelchair access… But I still say downtown’s worth it. Surely there’s some space we could free up somehow!

  6. Alex, I think you give an eloquent argument for why the library works for you and your neighbors in the downtown and I appreciate that, but I guess I was hoping that after all this time there would be a better economic impact statement out there reflecting the needs of the entire library service area and the impact on downtown of a new building. Unfortunately, making what amounts to a neighborhood library and expecting the rest of the (northern half) of the county to find it and use it probably means they simply won’t use it — and won’t want their taxes to support it — and won’t come to Northfield.
    Even if we all wanted to, we can’t all live downtown. There simply aren’t enough houses, and not enough alternative housing options to meet everyone’s needs. But this is about the library, not another discussion of the evils of sprawl.
    Rob, I like your thinking. The building is so beautiful, and after looking at the sketches of designs to meet space needs, I am worried the size of the needed addition will compromise the design and scale of the building and cause serious parking problems. Perhaps an arts center would be a good fit in the building — and draw more people downtown. Then a more cost effective library could be built on another site. I am intrigued by the block next to the library, which runs all the way to the Grand and could be redeveloped, as I recall. Has there been thought to making the new library in that block and connecting or linking it to the Grand and existing library in a campus-style design? The library then could be an arts center or City Hall with meeting rooms and conference space. With the Grand and the existing library as part of a civic complex, the new library might not need to be as large (not needing as much conference space), which would be cheaper and fit better on the site.
    Perhaps the library board could give examples of some great small-town libraries in the region so we could have some reference points for this discussion.

  7. Anne wrote in comment #2:

    Is Ms. Johnson’s update not on the city website because it was rejected, or because the library board has not posted an update since 2006? And has the report been submitted to Northfield.org or the News? It seems before we blame City Hall again, it might be good to see what has been requested.

    Anne, the whole idea of the $85K city website was to make it easy for staff, council, and board/commission members to keep the citizenry updated, not for the citizens to have to request info.

  8. Wow, this communication thing is getting crazy…You’ve made it clear how the $85,000 website is supposed to work (IMHO you’re sliding down the slippery slope into the graveyard where they beat dead horses, BTW).
    My question was whether the library board or Ms. Johnson had submitted anything (there always should be a gatekeeper for each department to publish stories after they are submitted). If they submitted a story and it didn’t get published, shame on the inadequate website design and execution…If they didn’t submit anything, then it’s not the inadequate website at fault, but the lack of information from the board.
    It was just a question, not really worth the time it is taking to explain or answer it. I have a pretty good idea already.

  9. I ran into Library Board Member Mark Gleason today and asked if there was any activity occurring on Northfield’s Historic Carnegie Library.

    He said that the RFP process for architectural firms had been set into motion. The Board is expecting a selection of professionals and the commencement of work on what I prefer to call possible “solution concepts” by mid-January. The results will be due back in mid-March. A charrette for the public to give feedback on the ideas generated is anticipated for mid-April.

    Apparently, there is still resistance from certain city staff to using public funds to explore the possibilities of the current site. The Library has decided to use private funds to get this exploration moving forward. I, speaking as a citizen, applaud their creative and vigorous initiative.

    Clearly, if you are one of the many citizens who believe that all reasonable efforts should be made to keep the Northfield Public Library in our Historic Architectural Gem, you should speak to your City Councilor as soon as possible to support the Board’s efforts.

  10. Did I miss something? Has the council chosen the current site? It would seem odd that the board would spend money to design something for one site when it isn’t designated as the official site. Will the board do the same for all possible locations so the public has a fair representation of the choices? I can see why the staff would be reluctant to do something without council authorization. I can’t see why the library board wouldn’t seek such approval first.

  11. Can someone explain the rationale of (1.) the library having to use “private funds” to explore the next step of their expansion plans, and (2) what “city staff” is reluctant to pursue the expansion on the current site, when that seems to be the public preference so far, and (3) why the Library administrator and staff are not treated better considering that they continue to keep providing the best, friendliest service of any city facility and to a region of 38,000 users, not just their own residents?

    Is this the game of “Do SO Well, on SO Little, that you will be rewarded by Being Ignored”?

    The city’s facilities study had an eighth site added to it at the last minute (and consultants don’t usually increase the scope of an assignment for free)
    AND that site was in negotiation for a commercial sale, AND that site was inappropriately located for a safety center, AND the council roundly rejected even considering it, BUT the library has to use “private funds” to
    do any further study??

    What is going on ???

  12. Sorry to have missed the earlier excitement caused by my comment-turned-blog. I was out of the country.

    Today’s flurry of comments and questions, prompted by Ross’s encounter with Library Board Chair Mark Gleason, warrant an initial response.

    There has been NO decision about 1) ANY municipal facility being built and/or expanded anytime soon; 2) a location for the proposed expanded library; or 3) the design of an expanded library.

    The RFP that is in the works (although not clear when it will be presented to the Council for acknowledgment) is intended to address the first question that demands an answer in the long list of questions about an expanded library: can a larger library, intended for use by all interested citizens in Northfield and northern Rice County for the next 20 years (including adequate parking, access, programs and services) even FIT on the current property and adjacent properties south toward the Grand Theater? If a larger library CAN fit on the current and adjacent sites, THEN the Library Board and citizenry can explore questions about the library’s impact on downtown, its design, scope, etc.

    If the expanded library CANNOT fit on the current and adjacent sites (with clearly articulated explanations), only then can we move on to looking for other possible sites.

    This same process should be applied to all of the municipal facilities that are being considered for expansion or rebuilding. The City has a lot invested in current facilities. Before we jettison them to non-profits or private businesses, we should examine their expansion potential with the overarching question being:

    What can we do to ensure that Northfield will have the best facilities (sustainable, accessible, serviceable, etc.) for the next 20 years (or more)?
    That is certainly the guiding principal behind the Library Board’s effort – to ensure that Northfield will have the best possible public library to serve an estimated 38,5000 people in the next 20 years.

    Finally, to answer one of Kiffi’s questions: the Board is willing to use gift funds dedicated to the library facilities, because we really want to see this RFP go out without further ado. With that the first big question can finally be answered – can an expanded library fit on the current and adjacent sites? Yes or no.

  13. Margit –

    Again, speaking as a citizen, I applaud the Library Board’s courage, creativity, initiative…and much needed leadership, in taking this essential, and long delayed, next step in a challenging but critical process.

    – Ross

  14. Thanks, Margit,

    I appreciate the effort to see whether the downtown site can be made to work for the library without becoming an albatross. The Stillwater Library is a fine example of a building that was expanded below ground on a slope like ours. We would lose the side street but gain a large stepped plaza. I am very skeptical in general of the downtown option, simply for space reasons, but this just might work. I think I’ll drive up and check it out. (If anyone wants to go, just let me know.)

    Perhaps then the liquor store could go in a remodeled safety center, and the safety center could be built behind City Hall and we would have all the corners of downtown covered. The 600 block at some point would be a nice arts center. There are some possibilities, for sure.

  15. Margit: I don’t remember if you have seen the Stillwater renovation yet, but I think Victor and i have talked to you about it. They were fortunate to own the land, down the hill, to the street east of the original building, so at least they had the land acquisition covered. We were over there twice last summer, once before it was quite finished and once afterwards. (The first time we had a lengthy chat with the head librarian in their temporary space, re: Costs, city and private funding, needs, etc.)

    The new addition is beautiful, but to me the scale is all off. The original building is far more formal than ours; Palladian/Roman/ Federal, as opposed to Prairie influences. But if you look at the original, on the “high street” and then drive around the block to the lower, eastern side, you feel that although much of the architectural detail is faithfully reproduced ( windows, etc.) the scale is way off. The entry on the east side looks a Goldwyn production set for the entrance to Nebudchanezzar’s Tomb.( Minnesota Film Board, take note… oh I guess the weather’s wrong, oh well)

    Anyway, IMHO, that is so often where the architecture fails. The scale is all-important for a “seamless” addition,and although both sides. east and west are beautiful, they don’t fit together in your head.

    This is one reason why I’d like Steve Edwins, who did the 80’s addition to our library, to have the premier shot at a new addition.

    I must admit to still being annoyed at the fact that with three?five? years of preliminary planning under their belt, and all the community support, plus the service area of over 38K, the council has not supported the library with more development funds, rather than them having to dip into their own gift funds. I really appreciate the library board and staff continuing to move ahead on this much needed expansion.

    As a heavy library user, I really applaud the professionalism and service orientation which allows our library to keep growing its services with very little increased funding.

    Thanks to Lynne, and all the wonderful staff…

  16. Suzy Rook has an article in today’s Nfld News titled: Library board will ask city to develop prelim site plan.

    Members of the city’s library board are expected to ask the city council Monday for permission to move ahead with a proposal to develop a preliminary architectural site plan. The project, expected to cost $20,000, would determine the feasibility of such an expansion and estimate construction costs based on the conceptual designs.­

  17. Northfield may need to define “downtown” better before projects can successfully benefit “downtown.” I think of “downtown” less in terms of the existing businesses (although I think they are all great) and more in terms of a central accessible location for citizens with, in Northfield’s case, a historic look and feel. The Ice Rink, the City Hall, the library, etc should all add to the “downtown.” The question is what are the boundaries going to be, how will the historic look be kept up and how do people get in and out. I wonder if a mini light rail could be used to keep the historic scale and density of downtown buildings as it develops and spread out the parking. And possibly link South Northfield and downtown with just one need to park.

  18. According to the Request for Proposal document, the library board is asking for a site feasibility study to see whether the space needs they identified in a previous study can be met on the current site. This information should be helpful to the council as well as to the library board. As Mark Gleason said at Monday’s work session, his board is hearing from people they’d like the library to remain downtown. Unless the board and the council know if this will work, neither group can plan where to locate the library. Should the site not work for the kind of building the library needs, then the city can use that information in looking at other facility needs.

    Once the council gets back on track with their capital improvement planning, the results of the feasibility study will be very helpful. I hope they will approve the RFP so both they and the board can get on with their planning.

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