Today I attended a two hour meeting of the Library Advisory Committee where this issue was discussed. A dozen or so people watched the proceedings, testimony to how much the library means to Salemians. (The committee chair said they usually only have one or two observers in attendance.)
City Manager Linda Norris was delayed getting back from Eugene. So most of the library into a police facility discussion occurred after she arrived. Before that, though, some interesting facts about the Children's Room project were laid out for the committee.
The much-needed $294,000 remodeling of the Children's Room area -- which will produce two Storytime areas, rather than one, along with an ADA restroom with diaper changing area, plus other improvements -- apparently was all ready to begin.
Until it had to be put on hold after the Salem City Council, in a work session, asked city staff to prepare a report about how feasible it is to conduct a feasibility study of converting the library into a police facility.
The firm that submitted the winning Children's Room bid, Woodburn Construction Company, was asked if they were OK with a 90-day extension of the remodeling contract. They said a 30-day extension was acceptable. Any delay longer than that might require repricing due to changes in the cost of materials (like copper wire.)
So the big question is what the City Council will do at its June 23 meeting, when the staff report will be discussed. Things are going to get complicated for the Children's Room project if the council decides to keep looking into the possibility of making the library into a police facility.
In my view, which I bet is shared by almost all users of the Salem Public Library, the only smart thing to do is shelve this whole crazy idea. As several people said at today's meeting, the current library isn't broken, so why try to fix it?
Meaning, it doesn't make sense to take a functional library, close it down, move everything to an undisclosed new library location, and then do all the construction work needed to make a building designed for easy public access into a very different sort of building -- a secure police facility.
Yet City Manager Linda Norris repeatedly said this notion deserves to be seriously considered by the Salem City Council.
I asked Norris a couple of questions.
One was, during the 35 or so community meetings where City staff presented the original proposal to build a new police facility adjacent to Mirror Pond at the Civic Center, did any citizen ever say that a better idea was to convert the library into a police facility?
Norris wasn't aware that anyone did. So where the heck did this idea come from? Well, Councilor Warren Bednarz was at today's meeting. He said that he has been "thinking out of the box," and came up with the notion of converting the library into a police facility.
Well, I doubt that Bednarz is the only one pushing this weird idea. He just is the front person for City officials like Norris and Mayor Peterson who irrationally cling to their desire to have what amounts to a Police Facility Palace with vastly expensive underground parking built at the Civic Center.
Meanwhile, the same city staff are ignoring much lower-cost police facility options raised at the same community meetings where no one -- repeat, no one -- suggested kicking the Salem Public Library out of its current location and moving it... somewhere or other... so the police could take over the building.
Thus the whole crazy notion of convering the library into a police facility emanates from the minds of a few City officials. Once again, Mayor Peterson and City Manager Norris are attempting a top-down bureaucratic planning approach that is wrong-headed from both a political and policy perspective.
My second question to Norris asked why she and other City staff are ignoring an alternative police facility plan that did -- repeat, did -- have significant support from citizens who attended the aforementioned community meetings.
Namely, to build a police facility away from the Civic Center, such as on Portland Road, where the Northgate Neighborhood Association and owner of the property are eager for a police facility to be built there at a potential savings of tens of millions of dollars.
So don't be fooled, lovers of the Salem Public Library. Don't trust City officials when they claim that a new police facility has to be at the Civic Center, so the library needs to be considered as a possible location.
They aren't telling the truth.
The Portland Road location and other potential sites out in the community have never been seriously considered by the City of Salem, which from the start has been crazily committed to a backwards and secretive planning approach that began with a desire to have a new police facility at the Civic Center, and then tried to sell a skeptical citizenry on a proposal that never made sense.
And still doesn't. Especially now.
Because the much-needed remodeling of the Children's Room, paid for with private funds, is at risk if the City Council doesn't kill the library-into-a-police-facility proposal at its June 23 meeting.
Another request for proposals for bids on the Children's Room project might have to go out if the remodeling is delayed much longer. But if the City Council votes to move ahead with a feasibility study of converting the library into a police facility, this likely would take several months, if not longer.
The private funding sources for the project would have to be notified of this. Yes, there was some talk at today's meeting about going ahead with the Children's Room remodeling regardless of what the City Council decides to do.
It was noted that even if a decision is made to move ahead with finding a new location for the library and converting the current library into a police facility, this could take years -- public hearings would have to be held; a skeptical citizenry would have to be convinced that a bond measure for this purpose made sense; plans for both a new library and police facility would need to be drawn up; construction would then begin after competitive bids had been evaluated.
But would those who donated money for the Children's Room project be happy with seeing the remodeling project demolished in a few years when the library was de-booked and made into a police facility?
I seriously doubt it. So in my view the Children's Room project is dead unless the absurd idea to convert the library into a police facility dies soon. I didn't hear anything today that made me change my mind about this.
If you're a lover of the Salem Public Library, tell the Mayor, City Manager, and City Council to put an end to the craziness. At the June 23 City Council meeting, city officials need to say 'no way" to having the Salem Public Library made into a police facility.
Tell them: [email protected]
Otherwise you might find that the Salem Public Library has been moved to the ground floor of the Marion Parkade, one of Councilor Bednarz's "out of the box" ideas. Stuff it back in the box, Mr. Bednarz.
Several mothers at today's meeting told him what a crazy idea this was. They don't want to bring their children to a library in a remodeled downtown parking garage immediately adjacent to busy streets. Too dangerous. Plus, what's the chance that the ground floor of the Marion Parkade can be made into a library that is as good or better than the one we have now?
Yet Councilor Bednarz and City Manager Norris said that if Salem can't end up with a new library that is an improvement over the one we have now, the current library shouldn't be converted into a police facility.
Best argument I've heard for shelving this notion came from the people who are pushing for it. Voters aren't going to approve a bond measure to demolish the current functional library and pay for a less-functional new library in a parking garage, or anywhere else.
Again, this idea needs to die a quick death.
Then the City Council should form a broad-based citizen task force to select the best location for a new police facility. Not in the library building. Somewhere else. Try some bottom-up community-based planning for a change, city officials.
You'll find that the public will get behind you when you stop trying to force bad plans on them.