The city’s library board wants to replace its flood-damaged main library with a new library at a different downtown site. And at the board’s request, the City Council last night signaled it will formally ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the idea, most of the cost of which FEMA disaster-relief funds would pay.
FEMA’s determination that the library sustained more than 50 percent damage in the 2008 flood — a crucial conclusion reached after much negotiation with the city — allows the city to ask that FEMA provide disaster-relief funding to build a new library elsewhere. A damage assessment under 50 percent would have forced the city to repair the library where it is at if it used FEMA funds. FEMA now also could back building a new library where the current one is.
FEMA would pay 90 percent of the cost and the state of Iowa 10 percent, though costs over and above a similar-kind of library could fall on the local community, Doug Elliott, library board vice president, told the council last night. Elliott said it wasn’t a “foregone conclusion” that the library site would move even if that is what the library board wants to do.
Earlier Wednesday, Susan Corrigan, the president of the city’s library board, said the library board’s intent, as it waits to hear from FEMA, is to quickly begin a public participation exercise. The library board will want to know where a new library might go, what should be in it and what it should look like.
Corrigan said the library board has adopted “guiding principles” for a new library at a new site, three of which are key: That it be somewhere that won’t flood. That it be centrally located in or near downtown. And that it has plenty of parking.
Corrigan noted that the definition of downtown is different for different people, but she said the board is looking on the east side of the Cedar River where future flooding may be less of an issue than on the west side of the river.
In recent months, the City Council, with the help of the city’s Community Development Department, has taken a look at possible downtown parcels on which the city can build a new Intermodal Transit Facility and other possible public buildings.
The council has picked a two-block area now occupied by a Pepsi warehouse and maintenance operation between Fifth and Sixth avenues SE as its first choice to build with the second choice being the site of TrueNorth, which is on Fourth Avenue SE across from Greene Square Park.
Corrigan said the library board was aware of sites that the City Council had been looking at and is “open” to those and others.
One estimate, she noted, is that a new library might cost $24 million, while repairing the existing library was estimated to cost perhaps $17 million. But she said the latter number was “irrelevant” now because the library is not going to simply be repaired as it had been.
She said the library board is looking for “a fresh start.”
“Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do the right, long-term thing,” she said.
Corrigan said she would like to see the new library completed or well on its way to being completed by 2011.
Perhaps, another entity might be located at a downtown library, she said, but she added that the library board would want to make sure the library is the dominant partner in any sharing arrangement.
“When you walk in, you know it’s a library,” she said.
“I would like it to be spectacular looking with parking,” Corrigan emphasized. “We have to solve the parking issue.”
She said the library needed at least 200 parking slots, but said a parking ramp might be one way to get them.
The library board’s Elliott told the council last night that the board understood that the council was set to being its own public participation process to look at the future of other flood-damaged city buildings like City Hall and the existing federal courthouse which the city will take ownership of in 2012 when the new courthouse is in place.
Elliott, though, said the library board is interested in pursuing a more “aggressive” timeline in its public input process. The council has talked about a six- to nin-month process.