Think far ahead in planning new libraryIn 2009, school boosters in West Fargo, N.D., faced a dilemma. Their $65 million bond issue had just gone down in election flames. So, what to do: Float another bond? Accept the status quo? They floated another bond proposal, but this time for a smaller amount: $40 million.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
In 2009, school boosters in West Fargo, N.D., faced a dilemma. Their $65 million bond issue had just gone down in election flames. So, what to do: Float another bond? Accept the status quo?
They floated another bond proposal, but this time for a smaller amount: $40 million.
That one failed, too.
Now what? After all, as critics said, “what part of ‘no’ don’t you understand”?
This part, the boosters answered: The absolutist part, the one that refuses to accept times change, projects evolve, people change their minds — and a democracy makes allowances for all three.
So rather than retreat, the West Fargo School Board doubled down. This time, they proposed an $82.5 million bond issue — bigger than the either of the previous plans.
But the district also had learned from its mistakes. Elections had brought new leadership into the mix. The rejuvenated board “worked in concert” with the district administration, an editorial in The Forum reported.
“The plans put forward to justify the bond issue were solidly based in irrefutable demographic data. The needs now and in the future were made quite clear. The building provisions of the bond issue were rightly viewed as a thoughtful, practical and visionary solution,” one that met the district’s long-term needs.
The vote was held Tuesday. And the expanded bond issue passed with 70 percent of the vote.
Grand Forks Public Library supporters should pay attention to that result.
The library’s sales tax proposal got hammered earlier this month. Now, City Council members, library officials and others are wondering what to do next. Should they renovate the existing building? Plan for an expansion? Or revisit the idea of a new library and try again?
There’s a core truth about civic infrastructure efforts, one that West Fargo’s experience shows. It’s this: The public is willing if the project is right.
That suggests the library’s answer likely is “revisit and try again” — not this year, maybe not next, but sometime before too many years are out.
Because Grand Forks needs a new library. That’s what the consultants determined. That’s what 70 percent of respondents declared in a citywide poll. And that’s what even casual visits to the library confirm.
The need is there, the desire and willingness among taxpayers is there as well. What’s lacking is the right project — and that’s what the library’s supporters should develop over the next few years.
Skeptical? Then here’s an interim step: Commission another poll. What did the public mean by its “no” vote? A good short-term goal for the library board might be to find out.
Assuming the results confirm residents’ support for a new library, then the officials’ job is threefold. First, keep the current library going — but don’t do much more than that. Fix the hazards, in other words, but don’t sink many millions into a building that’s likely to be torn down.
Second, Grand Forks leaders should assemble an “after action” report on the sales-tax vote to gauge what went wrong. High on the list is likely to be the proposed library’s low-visibility location and the fact that a 1 percent boost would have made Grand Forks’ sales tax the highest in the state.
Third, the leadership should take advantage of this new knowledge and hard-won experience — and try again.
Maybe the next proposal will include a higher percentage of donated dollars. Maybe it’ll be accompanied by drawings, models and other means of making the proposal come alive.
The key is this: Libraries are established pieces of civic infrastructure and have been for more than 100 years. And in Grand Forks, a strong library is a key element of this college town’s identity, as confirmed by statistics showing the library is the busiest in the state.
Supporters need not apologize for their desire to build new. They need only revisit, regroup — and as in West Fargo, recommit to making the community a stronger, better and more inviting place.