Ask ELi: Why Are More Costly Library Renovations Coming?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

A statue of children reading at the East Lansing Public Library.

In early February, an ELi reader asked, “Can you please research into why the ELPL (East Lansing Public Library) is planning renovations (and I’m assuming wanting a millage increase) when only six years ago they received an anonymous donation of $1.5 million?”

According to Library Director Kristin Shelley, the library is “not doing renovations,” but rather “desperately needed” maintenance to facilities. The total cost of the work will be roughly $800,000, Shelley said, “depending on where bids come in.”

Shelley said that the $1.5 million donation in 2015 covered the cost for notable renovations — ”about half of the library” — in 2015-16 and some, but not enough, facilities work.

The cost of the work will be paid for out of the library’s operating budget, a majority of which is covered by millages. Shelley noted the library does not receive money from the City of East Lansing. The library millages replaced funds that had been coming from the City’s general fund; read more about that here.

Shelley told ELi via email that the library’s HVAC system has exceeded its lifespan and that the majority of the electrical system is from the original construction of the building at 950 Abbot Rd., in 1962.

“When the city’s facility person has to make adjustments or work on the electric, it pops,” she wrote. This has led to concerns about safety.

Along with HVAC and electrical work, a section of the roof that has “leaked for years” will be replaced. 

Outside the building, the sidewalks and south-side ramp will be redone as they’ve become a tripping hazard due to tree roots growing underneath. The ramp itself will be regraded to have a lesser incline for greater ease of access.  

On the south side of the building, the circular drive for the drive-thru book return will be resurfaced and the width of the curve itself will be slightly altered, Shelley said, to make it easier for large trucks — delivery, garbage, repair — don’t have to drive over a curb.

“Many of these facility repairs needed to be done for years,” Shelley wrote, “but it has taken time to save the money for the repairs.”

Also, in addition to the maintenance, Shelley said “an interactive children’s garden will be created in the front of the library; this is thanks to years of fundraising and from donations.”

Thus, now the library is bidding out the various jobs needing done.

“So, not renovations but necessary facility repairs and replacements,” Shelley wrote.

At the Jan. 12, 2021, meeting of Council, Shelley said she expected the repairs ultimately to come to over a million dollars. Shelley noted then that the library’s two millages expire in 2022. City Manager George Lahanas told Council they can vote to renew one of the millages without consent of the voters, but the other property tax for the library would take consent of a majority of voters.

ELi previously reported that, at that meeting, Council member Dana Watson asked in response, what if voters don’t pass the library millage renewal? City Manager George Lahanas answered, “That would be bad news.” Shelley recommended voters be asked for the renewal soon so that if they reject it, there is another chance to convince them to pass it before it expires.

The ELPL Board of Trustees will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. Public comment can be offered at that meeting during the designated period.

Alice Dreger contributed reporting.

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