By a unanimous 6-0 vote Monday night, the Falls Church City Council gave a preliminary approval to place a bond referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot that will ask voters of Falls Church to decide whether or not they favor an expenditure not to exceed $8.7 million for the expansion and renovation of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library at the corner of Park Avenue and N. Virginia Ave.
The proposed expansion and renovation would add 14,500 square feet to the existing 18,500 square foot facility and to bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The $8.7 million price tag is half of what the Library Board of Trustees initially sought for the project, which would be the first significant improvement to the popular library since 1992, but Trustees present last night were strongly in favor of the move. If approved by the voters in November, the design work would begin in the next fiscal year, and the improvements made in Fiscal Year 2019.
The action followed a town hall meeting held last week in which 36 citizens attended to hear the parameters of the proposed project.
It was noted Monday night that whereas the City cannot take sides on the issue officially, the Library Board and other civic groups would be tasked with providing factual materials to inform the public over the next few months.
“My vote for this tonight is easy. The hard work now follows,” said Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly. The vote was unanimous with Council member Dan Sze not present.
According to a staff report prepared for the Council, should the referendum pass, “Assuming the project is funded through a typical 20-year municipal bond with level principal payments and interest rate between 3.25 percent and 4 percent, the annual debt service cost for this project can be projected to be between $599,00 and $641,000 per year,” of something over two cents on the real estate tax rate.
The Council will need to vote a final approval for the referendum by mid-August to allow the Arlington Circuit Court to order the item for the November ballot.
Officially, the Council’s ordinance states a bond measure would be for the purpose of “paying the costs incident to constructing, expanding, renovating, reconstructing, replacing in one or more locations, equipping and/or reequipping, in whole or in part, a public library.”
The line, “in one or more locations,” was added to optimize flexibility, because while the covenant of the gift to the City of the current location of the library stipulates that it has to be used for the purpose of a library, it may be that some library functions could be placed in an off-site annex.
In its current form, the library was constructed in 1957 and expanded in 1968 and again in 1992. It remains ADA deficient, in need of many infrastructure repairs or replacements, it lacks storage and sufficient security measures, space for large audiences, study spaces for students after school and on weekends, sufficiently large public restroom spaces and Local History Room space. The shelving is too high, the elevator is old and unreliable, and the heating and air conditioning system does not work properly.
Because the overall cost of the project will exceed (barely) 10 percent of the general operating budget of the City, by City code a public referendum for approval is required. It will not be, however, in the case of the renovation and expansion of City Hall, which will also begin, because projects of public safety are exempt from the referendum mandate.