Thursday, February 22, 2007

Some Library Cost Comparisons

In light of some of the comments that have been raised over the past few weeks by a few Carol Stream residents in letters to The Examiner, we think it is time to look more closely at the issue of the projected cost per square foot of the proposed new library. One writer has maintained in more than one letter that a projected cost of just over $300 per square foot is far too high and that a cheaper alternative would be to remodel an existing space at an estimated “$44-$78 per square foot.” It should be clear to all readers that such estimates cannot be accurately calculated unless a specific piece of property is identified and a detailed project cost analysis is completed. Still, the underlying question of the cost of building a library structure is a critical one for village residents, and so we have assembled some facts that help to explain the inescapable reality that library facilities are more complex than many other types of buildings and therefore cost more to build.

Each year, the editors of a professional trade publication called the Library Journal analyze all of the new academic and public library construction projects across the country, and the data from their 2006 report sheds some interesting light on this discussion. According to the information in this annual report which was published in December, 2006, six new library buildings were built in Illinois last year. All were branch libraries—five in Chicago and one in Hanover Park. The table below shows the cost per square foot of each of these new library construction projects.

Library Construction Projects in Illinois (2006)

As you can see, the cheapest project came in at $254.78 per square foot, and one of the Chicago libraries totaled $341.94 per square foot. Remember that the actual cost of the proposed Carol Stream Library cannot be accurately determined until the referendum is passed and bids are let out to contractors, and it is our hope that the competitive bid process will drive the estimated cost down below the $300 level. Given that our project is a main library building and not merely a smaller branch facility, the estimated cost seems to be well in line and consistent with other projects in Illinois.

As we have pointed out in other posts on this CSPL Friends blog, library construction tends to be more expensive than typical industrial or retail spaces. Large and open reading spaces require building materials that are engineered to support the structural weight demands of these larger spans. In order to fully meet the needs of the community, a modern library must also include special purpose meeting rooms, areas for processing a wide variety of print and digital media, and complex electrical and data cabling installations for computers and work stations. Just as it is does not make sense to compare construction projects in Illinois to similar projects in other states like Arkansas or Wyoming, it does not serve the interests of the community to compare the cost of this new library project with libraries built a decade ago or with storefront “satellite” branches which are almost always viewed as temporary fixes and not permanent solutions to an overcrowded community library crisis.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Take a Library Tour

If you have visited the Carol Stream Public Library in recent days, you have probably noticed posters like the one shown here. The staff members at the library have announced that they will conduct a series of tours of the library over the next several weeks so that interested residents can learn more about the facilities and the programs that are offered to the public. According to information on the Library web site, these tours will give residents a chance to see some areas of the building that are not generally open to the public. Given the discussion in the local papers about the adequacy of the current facility, we encourage all interested residents to join one of the tours and see first-hand the space limitations that challenge library employees and patrons.

Tour Information: The Carol Stream Public Library web site lists five building tours, and so we have included all of the dates and starting times below:

Sunday, February 25 (2:00 p.m.)
Tuesday, March 6 (7:00 p.m.)
Saturday, March 17 (3:00 p.m.)
Monday, March 19 (7:00 p.m.)
Wednesday, April 4 (7:00 p.m.)

The tours will start in the lobby area where you enter the building. As you wait for other residents to arrive, please take some time to look at the referendum information and architectural renderings of the proposed new library that are on view in the display cases.

Whether you are a regular library user or a resident who has not looked around the building for some time, these special tours will give you an opportunity to see for yourself how crowded the facilities have become over the past several years and how little physical space remains for workers to catalog and process new materials, assist patrons, and offer special programs for the community. Take the tour and be an informed voter when you cast your ballot on April 17.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Calculating Your Library Investment

We noticed a new feature on the Carol Stream Public Library web site that helps residents to assess the value of the services that they receive from the library each month. It is called a Library Use Value Calculator and it is a simple tool to help illustrate how much a family might be obligated to spend out-of-pocket for the materials and assistance they depend on throughout the year that are available at the local public library. As we examine the key issues that face us in the upcoming referendum, we can gain some important information with the use of this specal calculator.

The project was initiated by professionals at the Massachusetts Library Association and the spreadsheet that they developed was then modified as a web-based module by staff members at the Chelmsford Public Library in Massachusetts. Average monetary values for items such as books, magazines, videos, computer access time, and professional services have been built into the calculator so that when library patrons type in the number of materials that members of their family use in a typical month, they are able to see the dollar value of those resources and services.

To illustrate, we have entered some rather modest numbers in the example below and yet the estimated value of materials and services totals $152 per month. Many of our patrons regularly borrow more items every month than the numbers used in our example:

Residents who frequently check out more materials, make regular use of the free high-speed Internet access in the library, order books through inter-library loan, or enroll members of their families in the many special programs realize even greater value each month. Click here to try out the calculator on the Carol Stream Library web site.

Investing in a Library: The fact is, it is often easy to take the services and materials offered by a public library for granted and many residents may not realize that the cost of maintaining a modern, well-equipped library is not just a line item on their annual tax bill—it is an investment in the quality of life for members of their families, in the value of their homes, and in the community as a whole. In Carol Stream, the library tax rate has not gone up in over 21 years and our residents pay one of the lowest library rates in the suburban area. As we have pointed out in other messages on this site, the referendum on April 17 to build a new library will add an additional 30 cents a day to the average tax bill for village households or about $10 a month. Try out the “Library Use Value Calculator” and we think you will agree that the library proposal is a wise investment for the future of Carol Stream.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Building a Library: Special Considerations

There has been an interesting exchange of ideas in the “Letters to the Editor” section of The Examiner regarding the proposal for a new library in Carol Stream. Over the past few weeks, two residents have questioned the estimated cost of the proposed new building and wondered why the Library Board doesn’t simply expand the present facility or purchase one of the available warehouse spaces in the industrial section of the village and convert it for library use. The writers suggest that their plans could be completed at a lower cost per square foot.

It is an important discussion because it addresses some valuable ideas that many residents may have about the process of planning and building a modern library that, unfortunately, are not viable options. First, we have to dispel once again the notion that simply adding on to the existing library structure is a practical or economical strategy. As outlined in a previous article on this site, this will not work due to the size of the property and the fact that it is on a flood plain.

While it might be wonderful to be able to build a library at the same cost of a large storage facility or industrial warehouse, the reality is that library construction presents a number of special circumstances and issues that must be taken into account during the planning and construction stages. The American Library Association has published a series of books devoted specifically to this topic, and the Carol Stream Library Board has reviewed these issues as well as the recommendations of architects, library professionals, and interested residents.

Consider some of the special considerations that have helped to shape the current proposal to build a new library:

New Demands for Modern Resources: In years past, planning for libraries was a more predictable and straightforward process since most materials—books, magazines, and tapes—were all items that could be housed on shelves. Once the planners determined the number of linear feet of shelving that would be required, they could simply calculate the number of shelving units to purchase and locate them on the floor plans. Planning for modern libraries is far more complex since attention must be paid to all of the new electronic and computer resources that current users require as well as to predictions of the ways that information technology may evolve in years to come.

Special Engineering: Since libraries typically feature large open spaces in the central public areas, architects and structural engineers must specify building materials that will meet the demands of the larger spans and weight considerations. Creating these inviting open spaces is a more complex and costly process than designing warehouse or commercial structures.

Location: Residents expect that community libraries are conveniently located in central locations so that all patrons can reach the facilities easily and safely. Since a large number of library patrons are school-aged childen who often walk or ride their bikes, it is not feasible or advisable to situate a new library in an industrial area far removed from homes and schools. One of the appealing aspects of the site of the proposed library is the fact that it is conveniently located on Kuhn Road and could help to anchor an educational corridor that incudes Glenbard North High School to the north and the Community Education Center next door.

American Disabilities Act: Like all other public buildings, a new library must conform to all of the local codes as well as access standards required by the ADA. These are important measures that address the physical needs of all patrons, but the structural issues that must be dealt with to be in compliance with these codes and regulations add to the cost of public buildings.

Remember also that we are not suggesting that the current building be torn down. Several other Carol Stream village agencies have already expressed an interest in the building, and the proceeds of the sale of the facility would be used to operate the new library. As the residents who have written to The Examiner have pointed out, the structure is still sound and will be for many years—it is just too small to serve the library needs of a community that has outgrown a facility that was designed to serve a community of less than 10,000 residents and not the current population of more than 40,000 people.

Do you have an opinion about the need or the features of our proposed new library? If so, please leave a comment by clicking on the link below. If you would like to respond in print to the residents who have already written to The Examiner, just click here to reach the newspaper contact page to write your letter.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

30 Cents a Day

Whenever residents of a community vote on a local referendum issue, the decisions they make are usually based on their perceptions of the value of the proposed initiative as it relates to the estimated cost. So it is that when you go to vote on the library referendum on April 17, you may well have one important question on your mind—how much will a vote for a new library cost me and my family? It may surprise you to learn that for the average resident of the village, the cost per household will be as little as 30 cents a day or about $9 a month. We have collected some information here to help you to see how tax rates in Carol Stream compare to those in neighboring communities and to illustrate the financial impact that the referendum will have on an average family.

Equalized Assessed Value: As you know, the operating budgets of each of the public entities in the village are determined by tax revenues, and each has a specific tax rate. The current tax rate for the Carol Stream Public Library is .25 %. That means that village taxpayers pay 25 cents for each $100 of the equalized assessed value of their homes or properties. It is important to point out that this rate has not gone up for 21 years. The members of the Library Board and management staff have been extremely frugal stewards of taxpayer money, but it should seem clear to all that no business or public agency can continue to offer quality services if the source of available funds does not keep pace with the rest of the economy.

Here is a chart showing the current tax rates for the libraries in several neighboring communities. You can see that Carol Stream is at the bottom of the chart:

Cost of a New Library: The referendum asks taxpayers to approve a total of $25 million, a figure that may be overwhelming at first glance until you begin to examine it at a personal level. Remember first that this total will be financed over a twenty year period. If the referendum is approved, the library tax rate will be increased by 14 cents for each $100 of assessed value. Analysts have told us that the average home value in the village is $250,000, and so, as noted above, the increase for a typical family would be about 30 cents a day or about $9 a month—the cost of one small cheese pizza or a ticket to a movie or a lunch at a fast food restaurant each month.

The important thing to remember is that a modern and well-equipped library brings tremendous value to a community that more than compensates for construction and operating expenses. Parents with school children have daily access to all of the books and materials that may not be available in the school libraries, and they have the opportunity to enroll their children in a variety of reading programs and activities. Residents without children also see tremendous advantages since the values of their homes and properties are generally enhanced and the economic prospects for the entire village become stronger. That's a lot of value for 30 cents a day.