Government

Marion City Council delays vote on library funding

Decision could come Dec. 5, but one council member pitches public vote

The first floor of the new Marion Public Library will house the children’s department, which is to have an active learning area and possibly roll-up doors to open the library up to a plaza on 11th Street. (Marion Public Library)
The first floor of the new Marion Public Library will house the children’s department, which is to have an active learning area and possibly roll-up doors to open the library up to a plaza on 11th Street. (Marion Public Library)
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MARION — The Marion City Council, with two members absent Thursday night, decided to delay a decision on funding for a new library until all the members could be on hand to vote.

One member said he’d like more time to weigh the decision. Another suggested putting the question on the ballot in March.

The city is being asked to bond $7 million for the new $18 million library, to be built between the existing library and Marion City Hall, and to earmark $5 million in local-option sales taxes for the project. Another $3 million would come from the sale of the current library at 1095 Sixth Ave.

Council member Randy Strnad suggested delaying the decision until Dec. 5, the next council meeting, for “full 100 percent voting without any absentees,” a move supported by the other four council members. Council members Will Brandt and Paul Draper were not at the Thursday meeting.

Despite the delay, Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said it is “incorrect to assume” the council is not in support of a new library.

“We all said we would be in support of an $18 million project. That hasn’t changed,” AbouAssaly said. “We want the full council’s decision behind it.”

But council member Rene Gadelha, saying a new library was “long overdue,” suggested the council put the bond issue to a public vote in a special election March 3.

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“I think it would get that support,” she said. “But I would just feel better with that.”

Council member Steve Jensen said he was on the fence.

“It would be nice to have a little bit more time,” he said. “I tend to lean more in favor of let’s get it done.”

Strnad said he is in favor of the new library, which has been under discussion for years.

“Nothing good has happened from waiting,” he said. “It’s time we move forward with this. ... We’re at the point where we’ve discussed it, we do the work and then we put it on pause.”

COST TO WAITING

Library Director Hollie Trenary warned the cost of a new building could go up if plans are delayed even a couple of months because the construction schedule would change.

Trenary said contract negotiations are underway with a construction manager, and the library already has a contract with an architect.

Any delay, she said, will “cause a lot of concern.”

She is hoping the design phase can begin in mid-January, if city funding is approved, with footings going in the ground by the fall. The goal is to open in late summer 2022.

If there is a delay in city backing, Trenary said, the Marion Public Library Foundation would also would have to delay a $3 million capital campaign that is being planned to help reach the final goal of $18 million.

City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said Marion’s debt service levy — the property taxes that pay off bonds, which are loans — is currently 17 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. Bonding for the new library would increase the levy up to 21.6 cents before it would start to scale down.

For the owner of a $100,000 house, property taxes would increase $9.60 the first year and $12.63 the second year, he said.

NEW LIBRARY PLANS

As proposed, the new library would be 50,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the current library.

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As envisioned, the first floor would have the children’s section, possibly with roll-up doors opening to a plaza facing 11th Street.

The second floor would have a patio overlooking City Square Park, which could hold 75 to 100 people.

Both areas would be spaces the library could rent for private events, bringing in revenue, Trenary said.

The new building would have more meeting, study and conference rooms than the current building, which opened in 1996, as well as room for public art displays. Trenary also spoke about a recording studio, green screens and places for people to create art.

Most of the library furniture will need to be replaced, Trenary said. The bookshelves, for example, which haven’t been replaced since 1996, are too tall, “beat up” and not ADA compliant, she said.

A cafe is not in the plans, but Trenary said she hopes the library can partner with established vendors in Uptown to serve coffee.

SELLING THE LIBRARY

The city had planned to begin searching for a buyer of the current library in January.

The Gazette reported one interested buyer in July 2017 when the city was contemplating plans to build a mixed-use building — with the library inside — on the site of the Marion Square Plaza strip mall.

Steve Emerson, president of Aspect Architecture, said he would want to demolish the current library and build a mixed-use building, with retail space on the bottom and about 75 residential units on top.

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“To put more commercial and have the Marion school district grow, that’s the only way it’s going to expand: creating density in that area,” said Emerson, who also owns the building in Cedar Rapids where The Gazette is located.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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