2017-03-19 / Editorial

New library plans deserve discussion

Recent editions of The County Press have included a growing number of letters to the editor and Sound Off by people commenting on plans by Lapeer District Library to construct a new building to replace the Marguerite deAngeli Library. That’s good, it means people are paying attention and want their voices heard on this important matter.

Public dialogue and debate is important on any social and community matter, and operation of a library is no different especially when a millage election is proposed to raise money for a new flagship building.

Land-locked with no space to accommodate a larger building or much-needed parking, the decision has been made by Lapeer District Library to find an alternate location to build a larger, state-of-the-art building to serve the greater Lapeer community for decades to come. In a survey of almost 400 randomly-chosen residents in the service area of Lapeer District Library, the majority of respondents said they favored building a new library over buying and renovating the former E.T. White building or the former Irwin Elementary School building that now serves as the administration building for Lapeer Community Schools.

Cost to build a new 35,000-square-foot library at the southwest corner of DeMille Boulevard and Davison Road is estimated at $12.5 million. The 8.5- acre site owned by the City of Lapeer is in the closing stages of a sale to Lapeer District Library.

Some people question the wisdom of Lapeer District Library to spend money and purchase property for a new building when there’s no assurance the community will approve a millage or bond proposal to pay for it. The library district has hired a fundraising company that hopes to find generous donors to raise more than $1 million toward the ambitious project.

The County Press on Wednesday published a letter to the editor by library director Melissa Malcolm. She wrote the cost to renovate the gym and auditorium at E.T. White, demolish the classrooms and add the new library structure was estimated to cost $5 million more than the cost of building a new structure. Many well-intended plans have come and gone to save the White building and transform it to serve other purposes, but the fact is no one has stepped forward with the millions necessary to bring the building up to code.

Still owned by Lapeer Community Schools, the district doesn’t have the money to demolish E.T. White to clear the valuable property for redevelopment. Like the affinity many people hold for the Marguerite deAngeli building, so too many hold out hope someone will purchase the E.T. White building but those prospects seem less likely with each passing day.

Malcolm says as they get closer to the time of the vote for the new building — likely in 2018 — the architect and library staff and board will hold community meetings to inform residents about the building, its cost, design and services to be offered to solicit feedback. Judging by the degree of skepticism being expressed by some in the community, we suggest the schedule of meetings should be fast-tracked to get out in front of public opinion that may turn south without greater outreach and transparency.

Another question many are asking are what are the plans for the Marguerite deAngeli building? A resolute answer by Lapeer District Library may alleviate fears the landmark building and property will be cleared to make way for a retail store or some other commercial purpose.

A feasibility study, completed in the spring of 2015, is posted on the library’s website for those looking for greater insight into the need for a new main library building. A hard copy of the study is also available for viewing at the Marguerite deAngeli Branch Library.

The library staff welcomes your input. So do we.

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