Conversations around changes to the library are happening as part of planning for a potential bond election in November. Staff have proposed various renovations as well as an all-out rebuild ranging in cost from roughly $30 million to $50 million.
The library is the city’s most frequented facility, Assistant City Manager Shanna Sims-Bradish said during a Jan. 4 council presentation. In fiscal year 2019-20, more than 400,000 people visited the library, which is three times the usage of both the city’s recreation centers and two times the visitors to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.
Despite the perceived decline in the popularity of printed books, library services see widespread support across age groups in Richardson, Sims-Bradish said. Less than half of the facility’s floor space is dedicated to books; the vast majority is reserved for programming and services, she added.
“We will continue to see high utilization as we have new generations grow into our library,” Sims-Bradish said.
At this point, council is leaning toward a substantial renovation that would upgrade mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and make the library more flexible for future uses and more intuitive for visitors.
Council Member Ken Hutchenrider said he was concerned about the prospect not only of replacing the major building systems but also of moving them to different locations. He said he would like to see a contractor vet the architect’s design to make sure the cost is in line with the actual work involved.
“I worry a lot that we have great plans, ideas and dreams, ... but the cost is astronomical,” he said.
Deputy City Manager Don Magner said staff is “eyes-open” about the difficulty of the remodel and that the budget will be built with those big expenses in mind.
Council Member Steve Mitchell said he would prefer the scope of work to be curtailed to include only essential items, such as system improvements. Relocating the bathrooms and the stairwells from the center of the building to more intuitive locations on the exterior could probably be removed from the budget to save money, he said.
“Given that we are in a very trying time financially, I think that we really do have to focus on what we really need here,” he said.
Because the library is such an essential facility to the residents of Richardson, Council Member Kyle Kepner said he wondered if it made more sense to make a full-throated investment that was sure to last the full 50 years.
“My concern is we put $30 million to $40 million in this building, and it’s obsolete in 20 years. ... I don’t want to see lipstick on a pig,” he said.
Council Member Mark Solomon also indicated uncertainty as to whether a renovation was enough to sustain the building for another half-century.
“Can we make the old bones new again, and how much is that going to cost?” he said.
Staff plans to take council feedback and return with refined options for the future of the library in early February, Sims-Bradish said.