Top Toledo Lucas County Public Library officials said Wednesday the decision to close the main downtown branch for a year during major renovations was an administrative one that did not require public action by the library system’s board of trustees.
While board members approved a construction management contract for Lathrop Co. in February — a contract covering renovations downtown and a new Mott Branch library — the potential that the work would close the library for an extended time was never discussed or disclosed in public. Instead, library officials said they discussed the move in private with board members.
Decisions to close libraries during renovations have long been done by administrators, with the board consulted during the decision process, library Director Clyde Scoles said.
“I don’t think we went around the open meeting laws,” Deputy Director Jason Kucsma said. “We’ve always done it this way.”
Administrators have cited as reasons for the closure cost, as they expected project costs to increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond its estimated $8.6 million if the library remained open. They’ve also cited the project’s length as a concern, with construction taking longer if the library did not fully close. Work is planned to begin after Labor Day and could have stretched to 16 months if the library remained open.
Mr. Scoles added another reason Wednesday: Safety.
The last major renovations of the downtown library were completed in August, 2001, after a three-year, $45 million remodeling and building project. Much of the cost was from a $30 million addition, which expanded the old 186,000-square-foot structure to 271,000 square feet.
The addition was built behind the old library, which then had a $15 million, top-to-bottom renovation, paid for with a mix of bond issues, fund-raisers, and federal, county, and city contributions.
During that renovation, journeyman Dennis Fetzer from Carpenters’ Union Local 2239 died when a crane tipped and he was crushed beneath the bucket of concrete it was lifting. Mr. Scoles said conducting major renovations while patrons continued to use the downtown library put them in harm’s way.
But in recent weeks, cost appeared to be the tipping poin. Terri Carroll, the library’s marketing manager, during a discussion about the lack of public meetings, said “there would have been no public input that would have changed how the numbers looked.”
Charlie Oswanski, superintendent of facilities and operations, said keeping the decision out of public view helped focus on making a sensitive decision that would have been more difficult in a public forum.
When asked if the individual conversations with board members about the Main Library’s closure was a “serial meeting,” Mr. Kucsma said no, as they were “courtesy calls” because the administration could make the decision on its own. Mr. Scoles, however, said that he would have revisited the decision if board members had opposed the plan.
“I would have gone back to the board,” he said.
Susan Savage, the board’s secretary, said administrators “touch base” with the board on changes to major capital projects, and it’s not always necessary for the board to approve those changes.
“It’s up to the administration to decide the best policy,” she said.
The board could, she said, resolve at its March board meeting to reject the decision to close.
George Tucker, the library board’s vice president and the executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO, said the decision to close the library during renovations should have come before the board at a public meeting, but he declined to comment further.
Attempts to reach Randy Clay, the board’s president, were unsuccessful.
The closure won’t cause any layoffs, which was good news to Harry Johnston, library unit chairman for the Communication Workers of America 4319, which represents library support staff. While no one wants the downtown library to close for extended periods, the decision should save taxpayer money and expedite the work, he said.
“Sometimes it just has to be done for the better of the community,” he said.
Mr. Scoles said the library plans to conduct community forums before the work begins. Public input has added important information in other renovation projects, he said.
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