Last fall Marion took a step toward becoming the community envisioned by its Imagine 8 process and began planning to accomplish the Imagine 8 goal of a library that matched Marion’s growth. Early on we identified three needs:
- The need for a new kind of flexible library space, to meet 21st century library needs and capable of quickly adapting to change
- The need to make the library the centerpiece of Uptown Marion’s identity and future; to take advantage of the traffic the library draws, turn it into activity and commerce, and drive economic development.
- The need to add taxable value to the community in order to contribute to the funding of expanding library services
The Library Board empowered a committee of Board members, City Council representation, and community leaders to develop a needs analysis and possible solutions. This committee identified several options but it was soon clear that to move forward we needed to know more about the costs and benefits of each option.
Joe Huberty, an architect with Engberg Anderson and the lead designer of the Iowa City Public Library was hired and a second committee of Board, Council and community representatives conducted a cost-benefit study. We found that renovating the current library will cost as much as building a new one and provide fewer benefits.
The current library facility opened in 1996 and like almost all libraries built in the mid-1990’s it got caught in between looking forward to the future of library service and looking back at its past.
- The current building is designed for storing large collections of print material just-in-case it’s needed rather than efficient collections that provide material just-in-time
- The current building did not, could not anticipate radical changes in technology and how they changed the nature of library service
- The current building is a place for things instead of a place for people to meet and connect
Renovating the current building in a way that serves the future rather than the past requires a total rebuilding from the inside out. When finished, it would be a virtually new building with an old building at its core.
To solve the problem of providing the kind of library Marion needs for the 21st century and meet expectations for adding community value, the Board hit on the innovative idea of a mixed-use facility that in addition to a new library would include residential and retail components that add to the City’s tax base.
In September of this year, the Board issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to identify developers who were interested in a public-private partnership to help the City build a mixed-use library facility. We received two responses. The Board is now considering which if either to go forward with.
The two responses are very different and not easy to compare. One, from a team led by FEH Associates, an architectural firm from Dubuque, offers a process for identifying how all the required components of a mixed-use project can be brought together. The other, from a team led by Ryan Companies, a developer from Cedar Rapids, offers a specific project concept as a starting point for discussion. Both teams did presentations for the Library Board at announced special meetings this month.
If the Board decides to go forward with either plan, we will organize public presentations to answer questions and get public input. Both plans offer a starting point for community engagement and a discussion of the role of the Marion Public Library in City’s future.