During its regular meeting on Nov. 13, Belleville District Library Board chairwoman Mary Jane Dawson reported on an informal meeting with Belleville City officials concerning building a new library in downtown Belleville.
Apparently, the City of Belleville is not interested in giving the library property or its city parking lot to the library board, as the board had requested last February. Also, the library board said it feels the city has shut it out from building a library in the city.
Dawson said on Oct. 17, three members from the library board’s Building Committee (Dawson, Mike Boelter, and Joy Cichewicz), the architect Dan Whisler, and attorney John Day met with six representatives from the City of Belleville.
They were Mayor Kerreen Conley, Mayor Pro Tem Jack Loria, Planning Commission chairman Steve Jones, City Manager Diana Kollmeyer, DPW Director Keith Boc, and DDA coordinator Carol Thompson.
Dawson reported that Mayor Conley stated the city prefers that the library not be on Main Street or at the Grace Baptist location, as the city would like to preserve those areas for retail.
Except for Boc, all of the people that attended the meeting had been to Anders Dahlgren’s recent presentation on library space needs.
Dawson reported that city officials suggested three sites in Belleville:
• The Davenport/Amerman site on Savage Road;
• The existing library site with a spread to Third Street, without giving up the Captain Nemo’s restaurant; and
• The strip mall where the Glass Ranch is located on South Street.
Dawson said the library board feels all of these sites could not be used because they are either not a good shape, too small, or wouldn’t fit with traffic patterns.
She said at this point the library board believes the DNR/Spencer site is ideal.
George Chedraue asked from the audience if the site has to be that big, to house a 50,000 square foot library.
Mike Renaud said that 50,000 square feet might not be feasible to voters and maybe it should be reduced to 30,000 square feet with no amenities, such as the proposed coffee shop inside the library.
Boelter said they will need the same size area to build on regardless of the size of the building, as the library will need room to expand in years to come.
“You might have to limit the services,” Renaud said. “You’re still shooting for the max.”
Dawson said the board is not seeking a Taj Mahal, grandiose building. She said as an elected member of the library board she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t work for what the library needed for its users in the 75-square-mile area.
Renaud agreed the present 11,000 square feet is way too small.
But, he said, Belleville officials were not too far off in their suggestions, since the proposed new library includes a lot of stuff the present library doesn’t have.
“You may find, like the school, you’ll have to cut back” before voters will approve paying for it, Renaud said.
He said you can’t find 50,000 square feet and parking in the city.
“We all agree we need a bigger building,” Chedraue said, but SEMCOG has been totally wrong in its predictions, which have been used by size consultant Dahlgren for part of his calculations.
Chedraue said the City of Belleville changed population by just 10 people over the last 30 years.
Board member Christina Brasil said the old view was that a library was for reading and study, but the new view is broader and has a library becoming a second home and a place to use computers to help find jobs.
Chedraue said a house and church next to Edgemont School is for sale and Dawson said it’s been considered and is not appropriate.
Renaud asked if the DNR site is big enough or is it the DNR site plus the residential site next door?
Dawson said the answer is yes and yes, with the DNR site good, but adding the Spencer house next door, it is better.
Dawson said she understands that the people on the council have to have enough tax revenue to pick up the leaves and perform other services and it’s not in their best interests to give away properties that could bring in tax revenue.
Chedraue, a former member of the city council, said about 25% of the property in the city pays no taxes.
“I think they would like to look at retail on the lake,” Dawson said of the city.
Chedraue asked if they had looked at other places than the DNR site, and Brasil asked if he had any ideas.
“I guess we’re in a box if we can’t work out a plan with the DNR,” Dawson said.
Chedraue asked the board what it wanted members of the audience to do to help with its project. He said they go to the city council meetings and could lobby for the library.
“Until we have a site, I don’t know what to say,” Dawson said.
Chedraue said he does appreciate the work the board is doing and has done.
In other business at the board’s 80-minute meeting on Nov. 13, the board:
• Heard Renaud ask for a change in the special meeting minutes for the Nov. 5 meeting to state that the extra work by appraiser Bob Vogt for the DNR site was not authorized, as was clearly stated at the meeting. Library Director Deb Green and board member John Juriga said they felt it was understood that the work was not authorized and “discussion ensued” in the minutes reflected that action. The minutes were approved as written without the change;
• Heard Chedraue, a candidate for the library board in the Nov. 6 election, congratulate the incumbents who were reelected, Mike Boelter, Joy Cichewicz, and John Juriga;
• Also heard Chedraue ask for a clarification from Green regarding a statement she made that it was arbitrary to build a branch in the Sumpter area. Green said what she said is that most of the residents of Sumpter would probably use the big library and that it was in the agreement because Sumpter is more remote. After some discussion on the wording in the library agreement, Green said she did not use the word “arbitrary”. Chedraue, who helped draft the library agreement, said it is not arbitrary because Sumpter Township either gets a branch or the main library;
• Approved splitting the $200 cost of a block of ice for the Winterfest ice sculpture with Friends of the Library. Cost to the library will be $100;
• Discussed the Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that under the state’s Open Carry law, a library cannot ban guns. Chedraue, an attorney, said he believes the ruling is being appealed to the Supreme Court and will change in the future;
• Heard Green report that the library recently had a rain that took out ceiling tiles and soaked the carpet between the aisles, but missed the books. They cleaned out the gutters that were filled with leaves only to have more water come into the building with the next rain. “The roofer managed to patch the holes, but obviously it is time for a new roof,” Green reported;
• Removed the periodic personnel evaluation of Green from the closed-session agenda because of “a computer glitch”; and
• Held a 30-minute closed session to consider the purchase and/or lease of real property and then convened into regular session only to adjourn. This was the 21st closed-door session on the property issue.
Independent Special Writer Diane Madigan contributed to this report.