By Jan Worth-Nelson
When Flint Public Library facilities technician Mike McMillan looks around the 60-year-old building at the west end of Kearsley Street, what he sees is trouble.
“The plumbing is falling apart,” he said at the first of a series of open houses to inform the public about a major renovation effort. “Even today, as we were setting up in here, a radiator started leaking right down into the basement. The HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system is falling apart.”
And even maintaining general cleanliness is a problem, he said. “The carpet’s so old, you wash one part of the carpet and all the dirt comes up and you can see it.”
The truth of the building’s deterioration, along with a desire to bring it up to 21st century standards, is what has propelled a campaign for a $27.6 million project—a “like-new library,” as Library Director Kay Schwartz puts it, with construction to begin in 2020.
Of the projected cost, $15 million already has been raised or pledged by donors. For the rest, $12.6 million, the library is putting a bond issue before voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The bond, designed for 12-year maturity, would cost the owner of a $30,000 market-valued home about $27 a year.
Plans approved by the library board are well underway. Every piece of infrastructure and system in the library would be replaced under the projected design, Schwartz said, adding that the plan would add 16,000 additional square feet.
It would double the children’s space, double the tech learning space, provide two-thirds more space for local history and genealogy, and would provide all new infrastructure systems and facilities.
Significantly, it also will create 15 meeting rooms and four classrooms–an addition much needed in the library which at present has only two meeting rooms.
The library also is asking the public one year early to renew its two-mill operating millage, which was set to expire in 2021, for another ten years. That proposal would not add additional taxes to a homeowner’s bill, but rather continue it.
“We don’t want to start a library renovation project without having our operating millage secured – so we went out a bit early,” Schwartz stated. “Those things need to go together.”
The project has received two major boosts from the C.S. Mott Foundation. In 2017, the foundation awarded the library $500,000 to work with an architect and develop the renovation design.
Last week the library announced an additional $1.2 million from the foundation to support the renovation effort.
“Flint Public Library is a community center with learning and information at its core,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in a prepared statement. “This project would create the kind of space and technology the community needs to meet modern-day demands.”
Schwartz said the other major donors have not yet been named.
If approved by voters, construction would begin next year, with the goal of moving into the renovated structure in August, 2021. The library is expected to occupy temporary quarters for several months during the process.
Consistently a significant gathering place and hub of literacy, the love of books, and access to all kinds of information at no cost to the user, the Flint Public Library goes way back in the city’s history. It was founded in 1851, and still serves about 500 patrons a day, Schwartz said.
“Many people don’t know this, but Flint Public Library is the only building on the Cultural Center Campus that is completely owned by the people of Flint,” Schwartz said. The library is not institutionally linked to the rest of the Cultural Center institutions, she noted, and does not receive funds through the arts millage approved by Genesee County voters in 2018.
Three more open houses are scheduled for viewing the proposed design offering visitors a chance to do a “3D flythrough” and ask questions of library staff.
The dates are:
6-7:30 p.m.Thursday, Sept.19
6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1
and 1-2:30 and 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29.
OPN Architects of Cedar Rapids, Iowa were selected after a national search of “library specific” architects, Schwartz said.
Toby Olsen, OPN project architect, was in Flint for the first open house. He said the company began its library specialty in the 1980s with renovations and rebuilds of Carnegie libraries in Iowa, and has expanded outward to many states.
Olsen said the FPL design aims for an open, “democratic–small ‘d’–feeling” in which “anybody who walks in the door will be treated the same, no matter your station in life. No matter who you are, you’re welcome.”
Plans show an open, “hub-and-spoke” design. When patrons come in the door, Olsen explained, “You’ll have a clear line of sight to your destination.”
The second floor will be opened up, with an added atrium, so that people on the first floor would be able to “look up at your friend on the second floor and wave,” Olsen said.
Existing windows would be retained and more added — with attention to improved lighting and glazing and, of course, vastly improved infrastructure throughout.
Olsen said OPN as a company is drawn to places where “we hope we can make a difference.”
“This one has a specific meaning to me,” he said.
“Flint has a national presence right now in our national dialogue. It’s a community that needs good things to happen,” Olsen said. “It’s a community that deserves good things, and we’re excited that our work might be a possibility here.”
The FPL project is the first in Michigan for OPN, Olsen said, though the company also is working with a group at a northern Michigan university on an academic library.
More information about the millage, the bond, the design and the library is available at YourNewFPL.org,
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.