Local Commentary

Editorial: A Big ‘Yes’ to the Library Expansion

We applaud the action by the majority of four to give a preliminary approval to a thoughtful plan to deploy the City of Falls Church’s $4.2 million surplus it has enjoyed in the current fiscal year. In a close 4-3 vote late Monday night, Mayor David Tarter, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, Phil Duncan and David Snyder voted “yes” on the package that included $2.6 million needed for projected and guaranteed costs for the long-overdue renovation and expansion of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. Voting “no” were Letty Hardi, Ross Litkenhous and Dan Sze, although Sze made it clear that if it were a matter of the library, alone, and not other elements of the package, he would support it. A second and final OK for the project will be voted on Feb. 10.

Hardi and Litkenhous, the two stalwart opponents who have a guest commentary explaining their position in this edition, argued that they’re not against the idea, but just not now and for that much.

But in November 2016, with a huge turnout of 85.38 percent of the City’s registered voters, a whopping 66 percent of City voters approved the bond for the library renovation and expansion. The amount they OK’d was $8.7 million, and we believe it is safe to say they were not approving a number nearly so much as the idea of the renovation and expansion.

Now, for a lot of reasons not the least of which has been the construction and labor cost appreciations associated with a booming regional economy over a four year period, the project will cost $10.9 million, it being a locked-in guaranteed number the result of some hard negotiations by the City to hold it to that amount.

That proves the problem with delaying the project further as Hardi and Litkenhous want to do: Namely, the price will only go up further. In fact, the current negotiated guaranteed price will hold only through mid-February, the City’s manager on the project, Lionel Millard, told the Council Monday.

Also, as attorney Gabriel Swiney, a City resident, reminded the Council Monday, the renovations to bring the library into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) are not to be seen as expressions of good will, but as compliance with the law. As long as the City persists in permitting a public building to be ADA non-compliant, it faces a legal liability that can only addressed by a plan to correct the matter within a reasonable time (bringing the current library into such compliance would require reducing its workable space by 25 to 30 percent, Millard estimated.)

Finally, the City has never been in a better fiscal situation to take on a project like this than right now. The $4.2 million surplus is the result of one-time windfalls and must, by City policy, be put to a one-time use just like this.