Heights Observer blogger Fran Mentch recently shared her perspective on Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Facilities Master Plan and building a new South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch. Cuyahoga County Public Library appreciates the opportunity to respond to the issues she raised and share information about the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch project, which has the full support of Mayor Welo in South Euclid and Mayor Cicero in Lyndhurst.
First, the Library does not suffer from “too much money.” We developed our Facilities Master Plan specifically to address the fact that Library revenue from state funding is down $14.9 million since 2008 and property tax revenues have decreased by $7 million since 2009. We expect those reductions to continue in the future. At the same time, our Library system has never been busier. We had nearly 7.5 million visits to our branches in 2011 alone. What does this mean for Cuyahoga County Public Library? It means we must find a way to reduce operating costs while continuing to provide the same exceptional public library service our communities need.
Our Facilities Master Plan is part of a long-range financial plan and spells out where we need to update or build new branches to allow the Library to operate as efficiently as possible. Older buildings simply cost more to run. The renovation and construction projects in the Plan will allow Library buildings to be more energy efficient – which, in turn, reduces operating costs. Further, the single-story, open floor plans that are a part of the new building projects enable fewer staff on the floor at any given time. To be clear, no one will lose their job as a result of these building projects. Rather, the new and renovated spaces will allow the Library to reduce staffing needs through the process of attrition, which also contributes to lower operating costs.
We are funding the renovations and new building projects with capital funds (separate from operating funds) collected through savings, private donations and the sale of $75 million in notes. The Plan does not require any additional taxpayer dollars – we built the Plan to ensure we could live within our current 2.5 millage (the lowest millage of any library system in the county). As Ms. Mentch noted, homeowners in the Cuyahoga County Public Library system pay $76.56 a year in taxes per $100,000 valuation of their property for public library service. This figure will not increase as a result of the building projects. Also, for the record, Cleveland Heights (where Ms. Mentch is a resident) is served by the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library system, which is not part of Cuyahoga County Public Library. Residents in Cleveland Heights-University Heights communities do not pay local property taxes into the Cuyahoga County Public Library system.
We identified our South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch as a priority project early in the Plan process due to its highly inefficient layout. The branch currently is inaccessible to the disabled, does not have adequate parking and lacks the basic infrastructure we need to operate as a 21st century public library. Case in point: our staff must use a dumbwaiter to move materials from one floor to another. It costs approximately 82% more to circulate material through the 22,000-square-foot South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch than it does through our 36,000-square-foot Strongsville Branch simply due to its inefficient footprint.
When we researched renovating the building, we learned it would take $5.6 million to conduct the most basic and necessary upgrades – and even that investment would not guarantee a building that meets the evolving needs of our community or become fully accessible to those with disabilities. We previously reached out to the neighboring property owners to discuss a potential purchase to help with expansion efforts, but they were not interested in selling to the Library. The fact of the matter is we must relocate and build a new, one-story branch that is less expensive to operate.
Cuyahoga County Public Library has entered into a 90-day due diligence period during which time we are assessing the feasibility of building on three contiguous properties in South Euclid. Should we proceed with building on this site, we will integrate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards into the building design. This sustainable (note: we apply a definition of sustainability that incorporates not only the environmental, but also the social and the economic – the “triple bottom line”) approach takes into account greenspace and storm water management – two issues Ms. Mentch raised in her post – and works to develop the most environmentally responsible strategies that will complement watershed solutions (not exacerbate environmental challenges). Further, as we will do throughout our Facilities Plan process, the Library will host community meetings and focus groups to identify specific features that residents want to see in the branch.
We need to bring a new library branch to South Euclid and Lyndhurst because we know what a new, 30,000-square-foot, eco-friendly branch will mean for the community: more convenient access, a dedicated Writing Center, enhanced children’s space, more computers, more meeting rooms – all the amenities that modern libraries should offer their customers.
We invite the public to remain engaged as we move forward with the Facilities Master Plan. I can be reached directly at 216.749.9490 (if I am not available when you call, you can always leave a voicemail message) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also encourage interested community members to participate in our public meetings once they are scheduled in the coming months. The Library serves 47 communities and circulates more than 21 million items as a system. Ultimately, we are working to deliver on the Library’s mission of being at the center of community life, where reading, lifelong learning and civic engagement thrive.