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Local Government

Voters mull $21.8M for new Geneva library

'An extreme value'

GENEVA – Voters in the Geneva Public Library District will decide April 4 whether they will support a $21.8 million referendum to build a new library at the former Sixth Street School site at 210 S. Sixth St.

And as the “Yes Geneva Library” signs are appearing in front yards, hopes are running high for resounding support.

Chazmin Baechler, co-chairman of the Citizens for Geneva Library, said 90 percent of the 500 people they surveyed in September said the library was a community asset, and a majority agreed it needed more space and parking.

“We wanted to understand the overall general feeling toward the library,” Baechler said. “Do they see it as an asset to the community? Do they use it? Do they think it’s a right size and has enough parking?”

After a long study of the library building at 127 James St., library officials said they concluded that not only is it landlocked, but the aging structure is inefficient on several levels, too small to provide the services its patrons expect and not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“These are very exciting times for the library as we look toward our future,” library board President Bob Shiffler said at a Feb. 27 Geneva School District 304 board meeting. “We looked at various service models. We looked at our community survey. We also did a building assessment.”

Shiffler said the 27,000-square-foot library, whose original structure dates from 1908 and has had three additions, is only capable of providing 75 percent of the services expected from a library in the 21st century.

“Last year, we opened the Middle Ground area for middle school students to gather,” Shiffler said. “In order to put that area in, we had to take out part of the youth collection. We put in an adult Collaboration Zone. And again, in order to put that in, the library had to take out three rows of stacks. That is the type of trade-off we are faced with on a regular basis.”

Shiffler said it costs the district 130 percent to provide 75 percent of its services, not only because the building has aging systems, but because it has service points on three levels and staff scattered about in six offices.

“We bought the Sixth Street School property so we would have space for a new facility and maintain a downtown presence,” Shiffler said. “It will have on-site parking and a drive-up.”

The cost is $21.8 million in bonds, which will be coupled with $300,000 the district has in reserve, he said.

While the price tag sounds enormous, it will cost a house valued at $300,000 about $8.25 a month in additional taxes over the 20 years it will take to pay the bonds.

“We are not asking for a rate increase,” Shiffler said. “We are confident we can operate double the space with one additional staff for maintenance services.”

At a proposed 57,642 square feet, the new library would have play areas, open space for collaborative study, quiet areas for reading, space in the lobby for exhibits and displays, space for meeting rooms, and it would be compliant with the ADA, Shiffler said.

Citizen support

In early September, Citizens for Geneva Library hired MoreMargin Inc. to do an automated push-button phone survey of seven questions, Baechler wrote in an email. The questions were sent to a randomized group of residents age 18 to 65, she wrote.

“We wanted to gauge the overall feeling and the perception of the library as a valuable asset in the community,” Baechler said. “We wanted to understand how much the community knew about the project, so we would know how to focus our outreach. … We wanted to see what story we needed to help tell in the community.”

While library officials are limited to telling the public the facts about the referendum, the civic group can do advocacy, urging residents to vote yes on social media and by calling and door-to-door canvassing, Baechler said.

“When you actually break [the referendum] down, a house with a $300,000 value will cost $100 a year in additional taxes,” Baechler said. “That is an extreme value in services and programming. Everything we get from the library is worth way more than that.”

Supporters, such as Geneva children’s author Tom Lichtenheld, agree with the referendum for a new library – not only because the current building is inefficient and too small, but because it is not properly accessible under the ADA.

“It comes down to access to information, and it comes down to economic responsibility,” Lichtenheld said. “It is financially irresponsible, as a taxpayer, to try to prolong the life of that building as a library.”

Library fans still say no

For some, the answer is “no” on the library referendum, despite how advocates cheerlead the need.

A resident voting no is Sandra Ellis, who said it is simply the wrong time to ask voters for more taxes when they are burdened by paying Geneva School District 304’s building referendum debt.

“We can’t handle additional debt,” Ellis said. “And the new library is about more space, not more books.”

While she acknowledged that the current building is old and expensive to maintain, Ellis said moving to a new building will not take taxpayers off the hook. That is because the city of Geneva has the right of first refusal for the current library building, which is next door to City Hall.

“The city will have to improve it,” Ellis said. “They say it’s costing them more. It will cost the city just as much, and taxpayers are going to be bearing that cost.”

Mayor Kevin Burns said it was premature to assume that the city will buy the building at 127 James St. and then be financially burdened with upgrading its deficiencies.

“The city does have the right of first refusal on consideration of acquiring the library,” Burns said. “But it is premature to assume any action will be taken until complete due diligence is performed as to cost and appropriateness of space needs.”

For information about the referendum, visit www.gpldnewbuilding.org or send email to board@gpld.org.

For information about Citizens for Geneva Library, visit www.yesgenevalibrary.com or send email to yesgenevalibrary@gmail.com.

Library officials have scheduled three forums about the referendum. They will be at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. March 14 and at 10 a.m. March 18 at the library, 127 James St., Geneva.

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