A week ago a humble local blogger -- ME! ME! -- revealed that City of Salem officials were holding a much-needed remodeling of the library's Children's Room hostage... to a possible conversion of the Salem Public Library into a police facility.
Since, I've come across interesting snippets of information related to this. They've come from here and there, which is all I'll say about my sources.
Hey, this isn't the New York Times.
I'm just a blogger. I'm not wearing pajamas at the moment, but pretty close: shorts and sandals while sitting on a deck. Anonymous snippets is what you get -- which is way more reporting on this subject than our town's so-called "paper of record," the Statesman Journal, has provided citizens (to date, nothing).
I'll number the snippets to give them an air of journalistic solidity.
(1) Library Advisory Committee meeting next week should be interesting. I've been told that the main agenda item for a Wednesday, June 11, 5:30 pm meeting of the Salem Public Library Advisory Committee in the Library's Heritage Room will be on finding solutions for both the continued existence of the library and construction of a new police facility.
Reportedly City Manager Linda Norris, Deputy City Manager Kacey Duncan, and city counsel will be at the meeting. Public comments will be taken at the end of the meeting. I plan to attend. This is an intriguing political and social policy issue, as discussed below.
(2) City finds itself between (cliche alert!) a rock and a hard place. I have no idea how Mayor Peterson and City Manager Norris are going to extricate themselves from what is turning out to be an ill-conceived notion to study the feasibility of turning the library into a police facility, which also was first reported here (and also not at all by the Statesman Journal, a fact that makes my blogger-self gleeful).
If they hold up the privately-funded Children's Room remodeling until the feasibility of converting the library into a police facility and building a new library somewhere else is completed, this is going to look really bad. The many lovers of the Salem Public Library will go, appropriately, bonkers. But if the remodeling goes forward and the Children's Room becomes holding cells, or whatever, in a few years, then those who funded the remodeling project will go, appropriately, bonkers.
(3) The Salem Library Foundation wants to go ahead with the remodeling. This isn't surprising news. The total amount raised seemingly is more like $300,000 rather than the $250,000 I cited in my first post on this subject. It must have irked the Library Foundation to be told by a City official (City Manager Linda Norris, I heard) that their top current priority, the Children's Room remodeling, has to be put on hold.
However, the library is a public building owned by the City of Salem, so it can put the brakes on the project. Funds for the Children's Room remodeling were raised by a private non-profit organization, the Salem Library Foundation. Mayor Peterson and City Manager Norris really, really want a new police facility to be located at the Civic Center, even though lower-cost alternative locations out in the community are available.
Maybe a compromise will appear at next Wednesday's meeting; it just seems to me that the goals of the Library Foundation and City officials are decidedly at odds.
(4) Money raised for the Children's Room project could be in jeoprady. I used to be the executive director of Oregon Health Decisions, a non-profit organization that got quite a few foundation grants to support efforts to involve the public in discussing bioethical issues such as death with dignity and resource allocation.
So I know that foundations usually give grants for specific causes/projects. Almost certainly this is the case with the money raised for the Children's Room remodeling. Individuals who are large donors likely did the same: earmarking the donation for this particular project. If construction doesn't start by the fall 2014 date cited by the Library Foundation, it's possible one or more funding sources could take back their money. Then the whole project could unravel.
(5) The Salem City Council will address the library into a police facility possibility on June 23. At this meeting of the City Council the plan is for a staff report to be discussed that essentially looks at the feasibility of doing a feasibility study for converting the library into a police facility. An emailed update to interested persons (I'm one) from City staff said this about last month's Council work session:
To further explore this possibility, Council requested information concerning:
1) whether the Library could be reconfigured to meet the Police Department’s needs and at what cost and
2) what City-owned properties are available (e.g. Marion Parkade, leased properties downtown, Windows to the West) that might work for a new Police or Library facility.
Staff anticipates returning to Council in late June with a report on what it would take (staff time, schedule and cost) to provide the requested information. At that point, Council will review the schedule and determine if the costs are an appropriate investment.
After digesting all this stuff that I've heard about, I've become increasingly skeptical about the whole idea of converting the library to a police facility and moving the library elsewhere. Some people optimistically believe that Salem would end up with a better library than the one we have now.
Well, anything is possible.
But let's keep in mind that saving money from the current $80-90 million price tag for a new police facility and seismic/other renovations to the Civic Center is the main goal of looking into the library conversion.
I find it difficult to envision how the functional library we have now -- complete with Loucks Auditorium, meeting rooms, ample parking, easy access -- could not only be replaced, but made better, for a reasonable cost that includes the big expense of remodeling the library building into a space suitable for a police headquarters.
As I said in my first post about this notion, after attending the May 21 City Council work session:
My intuitive reaction is skepticism: currently Salem has a functional library and a crappy police facility crammed into inadequate space on the ground floor of City Hall. So it makes sense to leave the library alone, other than making seismic upgrades, and to build a new police facility somewhere on vacant land out in the community with lower cost surface, rather than underground, parking.
That way a new police facility could be designed from the ground up. I heard Police Chief Moore say that if the library were to be converted into a police facility, it would requre a lot of remodeling. For sure. A library and a police facility are very different architectural animals.
So what we'd probably end up with under the notion discussed at the work session is a semi-crappy police facility in the old library building, and a semi-crappy library in some new location.
I'm assuming that a new library wouldn't have the same easy access from a parking structure and two one-way streets going south and north, nor the same kind of meeting rooms and other amenities in the current library, nor an auditorium comparable to the current Loucks Auditorium.
Regarding Loucks, the talk today was to make it into a combined City Council chambers and Courtroom. It was unclear whether it still could be used as a community auditorium. Certainly the availability of Loucks would be much reduced.
What's clear from the meeting today is this: the Mayor and City Manager are still deadset on building a new police facility at the Civic Center. This is the unmovable conceptual object that's preventing worthy ideas such as a new police facility elsewhere in Salem -- like on Portland Road -- from being considered by the City.