Council Approves Deal for City Center Library and City Hall: Library Relocates to University Mall Temporary Quarters

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Thursday September 07, 2017

A stand-alone library is one step closer to reality with the temporary relocation of the South Burlington Community Library from the high school to the University Mall. On Tuesday, September 5, in a 4:1 vote, the city council approved a lease for 7,800 sq. ft. of space at the mall as a transitional location for the library that will serve the community until a permanent facility is built. Tom Chittenden voted against signing the lease, urging the council to delay the decision.

Also, on September 5, council unanimously approved a purchase and sale agreement to acquire City Center property on Market Street near Central School for the future location of a municipal building that would include space for both a new library/community center and city administrative offices in a new city hall. These plans will be contingent upon voter approval and other authorizations. It is anticipated that the project will be presented to voters in March 2018.

With the council’s approval of the three-year lease, the library’s move to a temporary space at the University Mall, adjacent to Bon-Ton and across from I-Hop, will take place during early November. The new space is scheduled to be open to the public in mid to late November, after a short period of time when the library will be closed to make the move.

Prior to the approval of these separate but closely aligned items, a lengthy conversation about the library’s needs and plans for the future took place. Sentiments about the lease arrangements were divided.
The topic was first addressed at the opening of the September 5 meeting by a resident who heard about the move in the ‘rumor mill,’ and questioned the transparency of the process. Councilor Tom Chittenden said he would vote no on the lease if a vote was taken that night, noting that he had received phone calls and emails from residents who were taken by surprise that the issue was on the agenda with no plan for public input. The conversation picked up again before the council entered executive session to discuss the terms of the lease. Community members expressed concerns about the location due to accessibility, seasonal holiday traffic, and the cost of furniture and shelving along with costs related to moving the collection. Wes Daum questioned the need to have an interim move prior to moving to a new library, especially since voter approval for a new building is not assured. Barbara Servis echoed concerns regarding transparency, stating that the council is generally very clear and open about its decision making process.

Following executive session, City Manager Kevin Dorn provided background for the pending lease, noting that the city has been searching alternatives for transitional locations for quite some time, including the spaces now occupied by Party City and Pompanoosic Mills, and more recently, the EMS space. He said that the UMall location meets the needs for adequate staff and public space, affordability and public access, and at $45,000 a year, is less than the $62,000 they are paying the district for shared space at the high school. He noted that minimal changes will be required in the space, and that the purchased furniture, fixtures and wall units will all be transferable to a new library.

Dorn estimated the cost for fixtures and a new computer system at $110,000.

Library Board of Trustees Chair Bonnie Finnigan said the board supported the move but had questions about how it will be funded, noting that this was the first she had heard about any costs or details related to the move. She stated that they are emphatically against the use of the Blanchette funds for the transition. The fund is a $250,000 endowment received from Paul Blanchette in 1998 to build a library separate from the high school. Finnigan said, “It’s all the money we have. We have an obligation to be completely transparent and to be the best possible stewards of the Blanchette Fund.” Regarding the purchase of fixtures, she said, “What we don’t want is to have furniture bought to fit a transitional space.”

Chittenden stated that he is not opposed to using the UMall as pivot space for the transition, but urged the council to delay, with the purpose of garnering support. He suggested erring on the side of caution, but Dorn noted that the downside to delaying would be the possibility that the space would be leased for the holiday season.

Helen Riehle responded to long time library board member Jay Pasackow’s concerns about making the move before having the approval of voters for a new library in place by saying, “If you have a vision, sometimes you have to take steps. This opportunity will be lost if we don’t move soon.”

Tim Barritt commented that one of the reasons to establish the TIF district is to invest in the city’s future. This is one of the first steps-to relieve the stresses of sharing the library.

A Library in Transition from School to UMall to City Center

Established in 1971 to serve both the school district and the community, the library operated under the management of just one librarian, primarily supported by school funds, until 2001 when the city authorized the hiring of a full-time community librarian to better address the city’s growing needs for collections and programming. The 12,000 sq. ft. library currently operates as a joint venture of the school board and city council and is funded through property taxes from both the school budget and the city budget. The city pays the school district for the use of approximately 6,000 sq. ft. of the total space.

The idea of a stand-alone library is not a new one; as collections and programming continued to grow, the limitations of space became an issue. A 2004 facility study concluded that the library was approaching capacity and required additional space to continue to function in the community’s best interests. In order to address the space shortcomings, the Library Steering Committee conducted a series of focus group sessions in 2005-2006 to identify what a cross section of the community felt were important considerations in any strategic planning effort. A feasibility study in 2006 looked at space needs in the current configuration of the community library and analyzed the creation of a program for a new public library on a hypothetical site.

As the City of South Burlington planned to create a City Center, the library’s board of trustees crafted a vision for the future of a new public library: “The South Burlington Library will be a cornerstone of the community, encouraging collective and experiential learning for children, youth, and adults by providing a destination for social, cultural, and informational resources in a flexible, collaborative, and comfortable space.”

A nine-member City Center Public Facilities Task Force continued to research the topic in 2013, and recommended that City Hall, the library, and the Recreation Department all belong in the TIF District. TIF financing is approved at 30 percent for the library and recreation center facilities and 10 percent for the city offices if constructed within the City Center.

The agreement between South Burlington City Center, LLC (formerly South Burlington Realty) and the city sets the wheels in motion for a municipal building to serve as the cornerstone for City Center. The 0.75-acre lot carries a purchase price of $875,000, based on the $1.1 Million per acre price of the rest of the lots owned by South Burlington City Center, LLC. The purchase and sale agreement is structured as an option, with the $5,000 payment refundable in year one, but not in year two. This allows the city time to move forward with site plans for the library/community center and city offices, while getting a better feel for the development of City Center and the TIF revenue flow before bringing the project to the voters. Plans for a new recreation center are on hold for now until the details of a proposed land swap with the school district for an additional adjacent lot are pursued.

“This transitional move will allow the library to focus on building out its collection, especially in areas which have not been possible due to inadequate space. In a community visioning process, the desire for interactive children’s spaces, focus on teens, wider access to technology, and expanded adult programming were prominent. The new space will allow us to try out new programming and attracting new audiences,” said Coralee Holm, the city’s public information officer.