Renovations this fall will close the downtown Main Library for nearly a year, a decision made outside of the library board’s public meetings that will affect the building’s more than half million annual visitors.
Toledo Lucas County Public Library officials said the move will save time and money on the large-scale project, but patrons on Tuesday questioned where the closure will leave community members who rely on the public space.
Plans call for the historic location at 325 N. Michigan St. to close after Labor Day, Sept. 3, and reopen about 10 to 12 months later. Work will include updating technology, relocating the cafe, gallery, and gift shop upstairs, and expanding and improving multi-function rooms. It will transform the library’s first floor, the Children’s Library, and the Promenade, or the entry off the parking garage, officials said in a news release.
No public programming or services will take place during this time. There will be no layoffs as staff relocate to different branches.
Library leaders told the construction manager they wished to stay open, but later faced excessive costs to do so, said Charlie Oswanski, superintendent of facilities and operations for the library system.
If the Main Library stayed open, work would stretch at least 16 months and likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond the project’s estimated $8.6 million cost.
We have BIG news! It’s been nearly 20 years since Main Library has had a major renovation, so the time has come for us to update this vital part of downtown Toledo. To save time, money & protect customer safety, Main will be closed during renovation. https://t.co/MLwHWGtJmt. pic.twitter.com/fnURrDGJCx— Toledo Library (@ToledoLibrary) March 6, 2018
“Once we got into the weeds on it, and the details, we realized that staying open was going to be more expensive than we had anticipated and budgeted for,” Mr. Oswanski said.
More than 500,000 people visit the Main Library each year, and patrons expressed concern Tuesday about the planned closure. Libraries are community gathering and resource points, and the closure will likely disrupt the routines of many, as well as access to the Internet or a warm space.
Rolita Noble, 58, said renovations are good to see, but she questioned what alternatives exist for those who rely on it.
The news shocked William Wiley of Toledo. Mr. Wiley said he is a homeless person who every day visits the branch and reads books. It will significantly impact him, he said.
“A lot, especially if it's cold outside... There's no place for anybody to go during the daytime to actually get warm,” said Mr. Wiley, 48.
The Main Library serves as a “central hub” to assist those in need, said Maxine Stokes, 45, of Toledo.
“It's going to be hard. If they can guarantee alternatives for other people to get to the means of what they need to do, then yes, the year won’t be as bad of a struggle,” Ms. Stokes said.
The library will consider area partnerships to assist patrons in need, spokesman Ben Malczewski said, but at this point nothing specifically is planned. He added there are several nearby branches, including Kent and Lagrange, available as well.
“I think it's an opportunity, like with anything we do, to maybe collaborate and partner with different groups,” he said.
The library system was in contact with Toledo Public Schools before it announced its decision.
Intensive reading support programs based out of the downtown library will continue, with library staff traveling to district schools as they do now, TPS spokesman Patty Mazur said.
But students who regularly use the Main Library will be directed to branches near their schools.
"So it won't be too far out of the kids ways," she said.
Complete plans about how TPS will handle the closure will be finalized over the summer, and shared with building principals before the next school year, Ms. Mazur said.
City spokesman Ignazio Messina said the administration was made aware of the planned renovations, but did not recall being told the library would close for about a year. He said the city plans to coordinate with the library and service agencies to see how the city can help.
"At the very least, we can lend support to other agencies," he said.
Columbus, Dayton, and Akron libraries have closed for large renovations, Mr. Oswanski said. With a tight construction market, making the project as attractive for contractors as possible was also important, he said.
“The project will span one winter. It's not going to be winter-to-winter duration. That was a consideration,” Mr. Oswanski said.
Jason Kucsma, library deputy director, said officials weighed pros and cons of a closure over the past couple weeks.
“I think though we're losing the splendor of this Main Library for a year, access to it, I think it'll be a great opportunity for people to realize the embarrassment of riches we have here with so many branches in central city and the suburbs,” Mr. Kucsma said.
Mr. Kucsma said the Sylvania branch, for example, is expected to reopen right after the Labor Day closure of Main Library.
The library Board of Trustees in February approved a construction management contract for Lathrop Co. The contract covered both the downtown library renovations, and construction of a new 18,000-square-foot Mott Branch, next to Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys and Smith Park.
Library officials at the time said they hoped the Mott project will total about $10 million and the Main Library project about $10.5 million, but this week they said they expect to get the downtown work down for $8.6 million, in part thanks to savings being realized by the planned closure.
The library board did not discuss the closure at a public meeting, but Mr. Oswanski said library officials discussed the proposal with each board member in private prior to making a decision.
It happened quickly, and the support was unanimous, he said.
Trustee Dennis Johnson said he supported the change as a means to cut costs and work safely.
Given the board meets monthly, discussing it individually allowed for quicker resolution, Mr. Johnson said. This has occurred with other branches and is not abnormal, he said.
“Decisions just needed to be made, so it was done on a polling basis as opposed to a full board meeting,” Mr. Johnson said.
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