EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.
Like each page in the thousands of books in the Fernandina Beach Public Library, there are two distinct sides.
The front and the back. Each separate and unique.
Likewise, the debate over whether and how to renovate the existing library has evolved into two opposite viewpoints. And both sides have been rather unwilling to change their stances, as if written in permanent ink.
The testy debate will likely come to a conclusion before the City Commission on Feb. 5. Commissioners will be deciding whether to proceed with a renovation of the library — and at what cost.
The debate is not over the need to improve the existing library; there clearly are deficiencies that must be addressed. However, the timing and the costs are divisive, thorny issues.
Meanwhile, library supporters feel they have a legitimate case. A leaky roof, corroded electrical wiring, insufficient heating and cooling, and cramped quarters all lend credence to their cause.
In one corner of the library, a plastic bucket catches water from a leak in the ceiling. A handwritten sign warns, “Do not remove bucket,” or else books may get wet.
An estimate for necessary repairs to the library is for $591,000. Within the funding arrangement for a complete renovation, the city would contribute $600,000, matching the county (the library system is operated by the county; the existing building belongs to the city).
Another $400,000 is to come from private donors as coordinated by the Friends of the Library group. This brings the total construction costs to $1.6 million. In addition, $800,000 more would be needed for updated content such as e-books, e-readers, etc.
If the numbers are accurate, it would make financial sense for the city to act now with its share — in order to secure the additional funding from the county and from library supporters. In essence, the city would be getting a new building for the same cost of doing the mandatory repairs to the existing structure.
No one likes spending on big-ticket items during a sluggish economic environment. The controversy and the political fallout of the proposed “Forward Fernandina” projects are proof of this.
Library supporters do not feel their project is frivolous, but necessary to continue their expanded operations. Most agree that something must be done. The current library (built in 1977) is now unsuitable for the demand. Ironically, more government services (passports, e-government operations, food stamps and unemployment claims, etc.) are being handed off to the public library system.
While the internet has made some aspects of a public library almost obsolete, there are still critical services provided by a library that many people do not realize. In fact, there are five library locations within the county and 52,000 registered library cards. And more people use a library during tough economic times.
If the funds are released by the city and county — and the Friends of the Library delivers its portion — the renovations are planned in phases so as to preserve daily operations. Expanding the library into the parking lot on the side of the building also seems to make the most sense.
If officials and the public read up on the case for a revamped library, they will find a compelling story. Maybe it’s been improperly packaged with some other unnecessary, unpopular projects, but it has its own merits. And now seems deserving of a new chapter.