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City Library Director Needs Council Input On Expansion

The Bloomington Public Library has considered expansion plans for nearly two decades.

The Bloomington Public Library expansion plan has been in the works for nearly two decades. But the most recent proposal has some, including Mayor Tari Renner, concerned about the timeline.

The library had a small expansion in 2006, but Bloomington Library Director Jeanne Hamilton said "now we're just looking to add more. We're just packed to the seams and we see about 1,000 people a day coming through the doors."

Jeanne Hamilton
Credit Bloomington Public Library
Bloomington Public Library
Jeanne Hamilton from Bloomington Public Library.

Hamilton said the expansion will allow the library to better meet the needs of the community.

The current proposal is a multi-phased plan ranging from a $28 million expansion to a $52 million expansion and added library campus.

"The $28 million is really what the library board feels is within the wheelhouse of the library, so that's the library expansion, and then to the south of us, which is currently Public Works land, that would be more green space," Hamilton said. There would also be additional parking included in this plan.

The high price tag plan, which Hamilton called the "Cadillac plan" or the "dream big vision," would not be implemented or completed until decades down the road.

"But really, that vision is outside of the library's scope," Hamilton said. "So, since the library is already working with the project and with an architect, we felt like we could incorporate a lot of the ideas that have been thrown around by council and community members and just go that extra step to give that vision."

Ideally, the library board hopes to get the expansion project started in the next one to two years. Hamilton said the library board will present to the City Council in the coming weeks.

Other City Priorities

"This discussion has been going on for 18 years and the library has pressing needs in our building that we can't make good financial decisions if we don't know the direction that we're going," Hamilton said. "We've heard support of the idea, but we want to know where the council really is at with the finances."

Bloomington has several major projects under consideration, including O'Neil Park and a sports complex.

"So if (the council) can prioritize that, that will help us make better fiscal decisions for the library, and we can decide whether we need to pivot or whether we need to meet those immediate needs now and that this may be more a 10-year vision," Hamilton said.

There's also a role for the community, she said.

"The library can tell our story and the impact that we're having on community members, and then we encourage community members to give their input to the council as well so that the council really is able to represent what the community truly wants and needs," Hamilton said.

Moving Public Works

Both versions of the expansion plan include land currently occupied by Public Works. Hamilton said moving Public Works is not included in the projected cost of $28.3 million.

"Public Works would have to figure out a place to move, and so we do understand that's additional costs. I think that's something that Public Works has been looking at independently, too. There's nothing solid for them," Hamilton said, referring to concerns with the one- to two-year timeframe.

Public Works Director Jim Karch said no formal cost estimates have been made for moving Public Works facilities, but the assumption is anywhere between $10 million and $15 million. Hamilton said it depends on a variety of options in the two expansion plans.

Hamilton says there is potential for the Public Works building to remain as is, but the Citizen Convenience Center would likely be impacted should either expansion plan pass.

"The council really does have some tough decisions ... and really we're looking for a decision and hopefully that's the plan where the library gets a full expansion," Hamilton said. "But in order to be good fiscal stewards, we just need some sort of decision."

GLT's full interview.

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