Walker Library lacks capital improvement funding

While a possible merger with the Hennepin County Library system has taken center stage with Minneapolis Public Library officials, Uptown's Walker Library is also facing a dilemma.

The city committee that recommends which projects should receive capital funding opted last year to eliminate the money Walker was originally slated to receive for structural repairs and remodeling. That recommendation was backed by Mayor R.T. Rybak and approved by the City Council, according to a report to the Library Board.

&#8220There is now no money for Walker in the city's five-year capital improvement plan,” Minneapolis Public Library Director Kit Hadley said.

The original budget - as determined in the Community Libraries Capital Projects (CLCP) program - for all of the remaining capital improvement projects scheduled for Minneapolis libraries had Walker slated to receive $500,000, a 2001 figure that would have equated to nearly $780,000 in 2008 if construction inflation costs were taken into consideration. Since that plan was developed, however, library officials learned that, in addition to other interior and exterior repairs, structural problems with the library's roof - which also serves as a parking lot - require that it be replaced.

CLIC's 2003 report stated that &#8220As to the Walker Community Library Parking Deck, the task force strongly supports this project if the library makes a long-term commitment to keeping Walker at the current site.”

So Hadley said the Library Board decided to request an additional $1 million from the city's Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee (CLIC) in 2006 to address the roof's structural problems.

However, Hadley said the Library Board's process for capital improvement projects has never worked well with CLIC's method of appropriating funds. While other boards and departments approach CLIC with the details of what their project entails, the Library Board puts together its funding first and then engages the community in deciding what the exact project will look like.

&#8220We're the only people who come forward and say we don't have a clue what we're going to do,” Hadley said, adding that she understands CLIC's apprehension to approve funding for a project they don't know much about.

Hadley said it's up to the financially ailing Library Board - which voted to close three libraries indefinitely at the end of last year and is now considering a merger with Hennepin County in order to achieve financial sustainability - to decide how it will address Walker's funding as well as the capital improvement schedule for the library system. City and library leaders decided in 2000 to fund the capital improvement program for libraries from two sources: $30 million from a referendum passed by voters that year and $8 million from the city's regular annual capital improvement program. Since the Library Board applies for CLIC funds every five years, 2006 was the first year that the projects were different than what was outlined in the original CLCP plan.

At the Jan. 17 Library Board meeting, members discussed the broader issue of whether to continue to invest in capital improvements in libraries that are currently closed or that may not be able to stay open in the future. That will need to be decided by the Library Board, Hadley said, and with a possible merger on the table, funding for capital improvements is among the many details that are unclear and will need to be worked out.