Budget-cutting scenario dropped, but some worry Walker site might still be sold
The Minneapolis Public Library Board of Trustees has dropped a plan to close at least one of two Southwest commnity libraries to mend a $2.8 million hole in the library system’s budget for next year. Despite what appears to be a reassuring statement from the board about the fate of the Walker and Linden Hills branches, however, one well-known community activist urges residents to be cautious before celebrating.
"There might be a side deal on the Walker," said Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota who is also founder and co-director of savethelibraries.com, a group of 200 Minneapolis residents trying to save library branches, programs and services.
Miles believes a deal could be in the works to sell the Walker library, 2880 Hennepin Ave., to a developer interested in its prime Uptown location.
The library board originally offered the Minneapolis community three scenarios describing alternative solutions to the budget crisis. The so-called Scenario B required the closing of five libraries from a list of six citywide; Linden Hills, 2900 W. 43rd St., or Walker were options. After community meetings in June, the board discarded Scenario B, and the remaining scenarios A and C don’t include closing either branch.
Although library board members say Scenario B is dead, Miles said that isn’t the same as a commitment not to sell the Walker site.
Library board member Anita S. Duckor, who lives between the Linden Hills and Walker branches in the Calhoun-Isles-Dean neighborhood, dismissed a rumored sale. "He [Miles] is incorrect," she said. "We’re not selling the Walker. We certainly haven’t put that into consideration."
If a deal were offered to the library staff and board sometime in the future, however, she admits that she’d consider the proposal. "I have to be open to everything," she said.
Miles said he compares Duckor’s statement to a politician’s repeated denials that he’s going to run for higher office — made right up to the day he announces that he’s running for higher office. "What I’m hearing doesn’t definitely lay this story to rest," Miles said.
Library Board member Rod Krueger isn’t squelching the story either. He says the board would unquestionably consider proposals to purchase the Walker library outright, as well as plans to create a multi-use facility on the site. He said Amy Ryan, project director for Community Library Capital Planning and Improvements, has been instructed by the board to look into whether any developers are genuinely interested in the site. "She’s going to come back to the board and tell us if it’s worth investing time in or not," he said. "If there’s an opportunity [to sell the Walker] that makes sense for the board, the library system, the patrons and the city, I think the library board would be open to that."
Because no Walker development deal has been proposed to the staff or board, Duckor says she believes that the Walker and Linden Hills branches are "going to stay right where they are."
However, she makes it clear that both branches, as well as the rest of the system, will be forced to reduce their hours and services.
"This is a major crisis," she says. "There are no easy answers."
The two uneasy answers left on the table are Scenarios A and C. Scenario A would keep all libraries open by reducing their hours and staffing and by eliminating a slew of popular programs and services. Scenario C would shut down the Roosevelt, Southeast and Webber Park libraries, while keeping open popular services such as the Franklin Learning Center, Phillips Computer Center and Hosmer Tech Center and funding programs such as Homework Helper, Early Reading Initiatives and Bilingual Outreach, among others.
Duckor says the library board may fashion a new third option that keeps all branches open, though at reduced hours and with some cuts in staffing, programs and services.Unlike Scenario A, it would preserve technology learning centers, summer reading programs, early literacy and teen initatives.
Staff presented a preliminary 2004 budget including the new option July 9, after this edition of the Journal went to press.
Fellow board member Diane Hofstede agrees that a consensus is building on the board. When the group met on June 25 for a special workshop, "we went around the room and there was no support to close libraries," she says.
In the series of six meetings held by the library board to gather input from Minneapolis residents, Hofstede says, it’s been made clear to the trustees that there’s strong support across the public spectrum for keeping all branches open. "That’s overwhelmingly what the community is asking for," she says.
At the most recent, and last, of the meetings, held on June 30 at the Senior Center at 1801 Central Ave. NE, a crowd of about 100 showed up to voice support for, and opposition to, both scenarios still being considered by the board. Many rose to speak out against the budget cuts enacted by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature, which led to the chasm in the library budget. In fact, the cuts to the system’s budget add up to $4.5 million, when taking into account the $1.7 million already slashed from the 2003 budget. Next year’s budget will be about 20 percent less than current funding.
The library board will hold two meetings where residents will have a chance to express their thoughts about the adopted budget — and the consequences for libraries and patrons. The first is on Tuesday, July 15, at 7 p.m. at the North Regional Community Library, 1315 Lowry Ave. N., followed by one on Wednesday, July 16, at 7 p.m. at the East Lake Community Library, 2727 E. Lake St.
Changes to the adopted budget can still be made by the library board until it delivers a final budget to the city council in December. "The public needs to continue to be engaged in this process," says Hofstede. "We need their help." You can contribute suggestions or get more information on the budget at the city library’s webpage at www.mpls.lib.mn.us/index.asp.