Vander Broek, who moved here in 2005, is recalling her first reaction to the AADL’s downtown library, parts of which date to the 1950s. A librarian herself, Vander Broek politicized her disappointment and with Victoria Green, Colleen Sherman, and Linh Song formed a slate to run for the library board in 2016. Their stated goal: updating the downtown library, possibly with a millage. Though a millage to replace the building got only 44 percent of the vote in 2012, the slate won in a field of eight candidates, with nearly 68 percent of the vote between them.
“The original building–by the front doors–was built in 1958,” explains AADL director Josie Parker. “The second part was an add-on that mirrored it backward in seventy-seven. In eighty-nine, two floors were put on top. They were not connected well mechanically, and that makes it hard to maintain them. It also makes them expensive.”
Encouraged by the new trustees, the library board commissioned a report from O’Neal Construction on the state of the building and what might be done to improve it. “We wanted options, and we got three,” says Vander Broek. “The most conservative was to take care of what we have. The second was to renovate but keep the core. The third was to rebuild. What we got was an approximate price per square foot for what it would cost to build in Ann Arbor in that location. But there are lots of variables.”
O’Neal figured basic maintenance for the next thirty years would cost about $10.4 million. Keeping the core but renovating the rest would cost between $17.9 million and $25.1 million. And a complete rebuild would cost up to $62.5 million.
Which one is chosen will depend on what the trustees think the public would be willing to pay. To gauge that, the board is doing a phone survey. “We do surveys on a regular basis,” says Vander Broek. “Usually they focus on the public’s perception of services. Now we’re asking about the downtown library.
“Six years ago [when the millage failed] was a different time. We want to see where people are now, how they’d feel about changes to the physical building–and are they committed enough to contribute through a millage? This is not something we’d go forward with without public support.
If the trustees decide to proceed with a rebuild, Parker says there are four ways to get financing. “They could fund-raise. They could have a voted millage like what failed here in 2012. They could have a combination of fund-raising and a voted millage. And the library board is also able to bond without a vote, the same way the city did on the courthouse building and the county did on its jail.”
Bonding is the least safe option in Parker’s view. “The risk to that is if your levy drops, you must pay the bond note, so you have to cut services.” Vander Broek will say only that “all options are on the table.”
The last millage faced well-funded opposition led by political activist Kathy Griswold. “I am not opposed to improving library services downtown,” she emails, “but would be opposed to more than 2 mils for library services.” That’s the current authorized level, though due to Headlee limits the library’s currently collecting only 1.89 mills.
So far, “we haven’t seen any organized opposition,” says Vander Broek, the board’s president. “But we haven’t said what we’re doing yet, so there’s nothing to oppose.”
Vander Broek hopes the process will culminate in “a really amazing downtown library that excites and inspires Ann Arbor. It’s going to happen. I’d like it to happen in the next five years. I’m only on the board for four years. That’s where this work needs to happen. The slate of people I came in with, we have three more years to solve the problem.”
The library director has a little more time than that. “I’m five-and-a-half years away from that magic number sixty-five,” says Parker. “Big changes can happen in five years, and I’d like to be here and be a part of it.”