The Falls Church City Council is expected to vote at its regular business meeting this Monday night at City Hall on whether or not to place a bond referendum on this November’s ballot to pay for a renovation and expansion of the award-winning Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
It is an issue that has been 11 years in the making, and members of the Library Board of Trustees told the Council in a work session this week that the popular library, ranked a three or four-star library for eight years in a row, simply cannot delay further sorely needed upgrades, including adding 6,600 square feet of additional space and making the building compliant with the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
If approved for the ballot this Monday, it is expected that the bond referendum will be for an amount of $8.3 million, half of what the Library Board originally requested. The Falls Church Planning Commission has already vetted the proposal and voted to recommend that the Council approve it.
If passed this November, the bond referendum would fund planning and construction of the renovations and added square footage of the library on its current location to be completed by the end of 2019 or early 2020. However, the referendum language sought by the Library Board would not restrict the location of the library in the event of new developments.
At the work session the Council members were found to be in general sympathy and agreement with the Library Board’s wishes. Earlier, the Library Board had said it needed more than twice that amount of money for the renovation and expansion. In 2012 it sought $17.7 million for a new 33,000 square foot facility and with parking $18.9 million. Those proposals were rejected by the Planning Commission and the Board was told to go back to the drawing boards for a more modest plan at half the cost, which they did.
Now, in compliance with that recommendation, the Library Board will not seek more parking, among other things now knowing that with a City Hall renovation plan coming down the pike, that the City Council has plans to provide new parking in that project that would serve the library’s needs.
Chet De Long, vice chair of the Library Board speaking in the absence of chair Brad Gernand, said that population growth has placed great pressures on the library, with 325,000 customers using the facility so far this year alone.
Board member Stephanie Oppenheimer told the Council that the library is the one institution that serves all the members of the community, young and old, and is “the heart and soul of the community.” Council member David Snyder seconded those remarks.
The new renovations would make the facility ADA compliant with, among other things, a new elevator, and HVAC system. In addition, there would be an addition of 6,600 square feet of expansion, with plans yet to be finalized for whether that expansion would be best to the east side or west side of the building.
Other needs that the referendum would seek to remedy include insufficient space for programs, conferences and study, no space for new items, aisles, halls, shelf spacing and restrooms that are non-ADA compliant, better lighting, plumbing deficiencies and better security systems.
The referendum would be for an $8.3 million bond to be paid back over 20 years at a cost of principal and interest of about $600,000 to $641,000 per year.
If approved for the ballot Monday night, it would come ahead of other anticipated bond referendums for the renovation and expansion of City Hall and either the renovation of or building of a new George Mason High School building.