A couple of weeks ago, several Vandalia area residents attended a Mexico-Audrain County Library District meeting to share their concerns on the facility in Vandalia.
Two extremely important things came out of that meeting. Those were the emphasis on communication between the board and the Vandalia’s library staff and residents. There is also concern as to how and when a new facility will be constructed in town.
Here’s where we are…The current Vandalia Branch Library building is not getting any better. The library rents the building from the Vandalia Recreation Corporation and a vision was once created for both the YMCA and library to share a future facility in place of the old library.
All fundraising plans were heading in that direction until the library district abruptly decided in 2015 that they no longer wanted to be a part of the YMCA Project.
Unfortunately, no plans appeared to be laid out by the board and the new county library director after that decision. No fundraisers were encouraged initially and no vision was given on how the district would build a new building in Vandalia.
This includes having important communication on potential plans with the current Vandalia Branch Library administrator, though discussions gathered steam in the last few months in board meetings. With no clear direction, the county board announced a purchase of the former Tri-County Building Supply property across the street from the current library.
While they got it for an outstanding price with the generosity of a local bank, the cost of proper demolition with the property pushes a total price tag of around $100,000.
In an press release submitted by board member Kathy Craghead for the district on June 13, it was noted that there is no timetable announced for construction but was somehow being financed through monies and donations.
This was the first time any information had come from the library district to the media in the year since their decision to pull out of the YMCA Project telling the Vandalia community they could donate towards the construction of the facility.
The press release also has a quote from the District Library Director noting how the district is acknowledging the recommendation of the ALA. She also said “the new library might not be quite as large as the present one, but the space will be used much more effectively.”
The Vandalia Branch Library Manager and several Vandalia area residents were concerned with the last quote. The manager laid out her case for a new facility to be larger than the current one when she attended the district library meeting in July. She talked about how services are already doubling up on each other, the need for an official meeting room, and having the space needed to host large numbers of students in Summer School, for example.
She noted that the current library is about 4,350 sq. foot and is not big enough.
In referencing the same June press release, the manager also shared concern on the paragraph noting how the ALC determines square footage needed for public libraries based on an area’s population.
She asked in the meeting what the formula was and also said it appears on the website that the ALA no longer sets the standards, which are from the 1970s.
It does say ALA will help with benchmarks and a fact sheet to help with the process.
The board president then said the district “couldn’t go off ALA like the paper stated right now.” She also said the biggest guideline is the funds available.
I was surprised that the board would contradict itself from a press release they submitted.
Though the Vandalia manager was reminded that the library district was looking at a minimal of 5,000 square footage in the proposal process, they noted that the size may be “backed off a bit.”
Well if indeed the current facility is 4,350 sq. foot and in knowing it is too small, there’s not much difference between it’s size and the minimum 5,000 sq. foot that is appearing to get smaller.
Another issue came when the board said the YMCA asked for a donation of $500,000 and would have an increase in rent from $300 to $1,200 a month.
The $500,000 is reportedly what it would have cost for the library’s portion of the project. With limited dollars committed up front, rent would go from $300 to about $1,200 a month for a timetable likely reaching at least 10 to 15 years. That totals about $216,000.
The totals come from approximate numbers showing cost of $120-$150 dollars per square foot.
So if 3,000 sq. foot costs about $500,000, and it is likely another 2,000 sq. foot is needed, I ask why the library board decided to pull away from the YMCA Project?
In the meeting the board did say it was their lawyer’s recommendation to in essence own what they put that much money into. Currently, just the Mexico library is in a building owned by the district as the libraries in the other towns are renting their locations.
While their efforts could have been lumped in with the YMCA Project, the district now has property purchased and is only now attempting to start fundraising from the same pool of customers who have been donating to the YMCA Project.
The board president then claimed the board was never a part of the YMCA Project to begin with as it had not voted on anything. This was in spite of the district’s former director and some board members reportedly attending a meeting to help architects design the library concept if built in the YMCA Project. It’s important that Vandalia area residents know how we got here and I hope this editorial helps. Basically, Vandalia’s library will soon need a temporary location and there is no timetable on when a new facility will be built. It is also unclear as to how big the new facility will be.
Though I personally think the library district should never have pulled out of the YMCA Project, I do hope they can get enough donations and be diligent in finding grants to help construct a large enough library to serve this town’s residents sooner than later. I also hope the communication between the library district, the Vandalia Branch Library staff, and residents will be much better as this process moves forward.