Residents of Birmingham face an important decision on May 6—whether or not to approve a renovation and expansion project for the Baldwin Public Library.
Upon becoming Director of Baldwin four years ago, I began a conversation with the Library Board, the City Commission and the community about the Library’s facility. Baldwin’s building was outdated and failed to offer important features that neighboring libraries provided. I sought guidance from Birmingham’s citizens and governing bodies on how we should proceed.
The process we have undertaken since then has been careful and transparent. The City Commission established a committee with the charge to gather input from citizens, benchmark Baldwin against other libraries, and determine future library trends. All meetings of this committee were publicly noticed and received press coverage.
The committee analyzed a variety of options. Not surprisingly, the lower-cost options addressed fewer issues. Ultimately, the committee recommended a comprehensive restoration plan of the Library’s 1927 Tudor-style building, demolition of the existing 1960 and 1981 additions, and construction of a new two-story brick building with basement and sloped roof. It was considered the best and most practical solution.
What does this proposal accomplish?
· Increase in total building size from 40,174 to 56,600 square feet in order to meet identified needs
· 70% increase in children’s area
· Additional two- to six-person study rooms
· Café-style study/collaboration area with vending machines
· Street-level entrance
· Full ADA/stroller accessibility
· Adaptable technological infrastructure—with power and data accessibility spaced every 54 inches in the floor
· Flexible interior design that will accommodate changing needs in the future
· Enhanced lighting, acoustics, heating, and cooling
· More and larger bathrooms as well as elevators
· Improved energy efficiency
· Building design that maintains current staff levels
· Solutions to existing building problems, like ceiling leaks and a malfunctioning freight elevator
· Furnishings and equipment comparable to those at the Bloomfield Township Public Library
· Restoration of a small auditorium, the east bay window, and other features of the 1927 building
· Increased green space around building
The project, which was vetted by an independent cost estimator, would cost $21.5 million. This estimate includes the cost of remaining open during construction and contingencies to cover unforeseen construction expenses. If the contingencies are not needed, the project cost would decline. By law the project cannot exceed $21.5 million. The City’s municipal finance advisor has determined that the cost to the average Birmingham household would be $124.36 a year for 20 years, including interest.
Baldwin’s building is owned by the City. Therefore, only Birmingham residents will vote for the proposed building improvements. Baldwin also serves three neighboring communities on a contractual basis. These communities pay only for operating expenses. They account for slightly under 30% of the Library’s circulation and contribute approximately the same percentage to Baldwin’s operating revenues.
The current plans were developed by an architectural firm selected through a competitive process. The City spent $97,400 on the designs and cost estimates. If the proposal is approved, another competitive process would be held for a “phase 2” architect, who would develop the final design after input from the public.
Experience at other libraries has shown that users encounter inconvenience during the construction process, but once the new doors open, usage increases considerably as residents discover the advantages of a new facility. For example, the Bloomfield Township Library saw a 20% increase in usage after its new building was completed.
The proposed Library building project accomplishes much. It is up to Birmingham voters to decide whether they wish to make the investment. I encourage you to review the information about the project that is on the Library’s website at http://baldwinlib.org/library-building, including a question-and-answer fact sheet. Whatever your view on this matter, be sure to vote on May 6 and make your opinion count.