Thursday, March 18, 1999
Minutes for the Continued Meeting
Ashland City Council
March 18, 1999
Call to Order
Mayor Shaw called the meeting to order at 12:05 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers.
Councilors Laws, Hauck, Hanson, Wheeldon and Fine were present. Councilor Reid was absent.
Consideration of the Expansion of the City's Historic Carnegie Library
John Gaffey/637 Oak Street/Feels that the mayor got a bad break in the press when she was recently quoted as saying that the project was moving ahead based on a verbal agreement with the neighboring property owners. Concerned that $67,000 was spent before there was a firm agreement that the property was available. Feels that this gives the impression that the process was not well thought out or professional. Noted that he has spoken with Assistant City Administrator Greg Scoles about the process, and stated that he did not entirely agree with the process as there did not seem to be discussion of more basic project requirements such as parking and traffic. Noted that Scoles had explained to him that these issues would be addressed after the project was approved and plans were firmed up. Pointed out that he has problems with not addressing these basic issues up front, before a great deal of money has been spent. Concerned as well that people with very strong agendas were brought into the process early on, and there seemed to be consensus on many issues before talks began. There did not seem to be a lot left over for discussion.
Shaw clarified that she felt she had strong confirmation from the property owners that the property was available months ago. Stated that people have the right to change their minds. Noted that this project came in with a high price tag, but the committee felt it was important to bring it before the Council and gather public input to determine if this was a reasonable request to place before the voters. Suggested that the process was difficult for the property owners too, given that details could not be finalized until after voter approval despite the fact that amounts were brought forth in the paper.
Shaw explained the lengthy process that would be involved. Noted that the committee was put together after a request was received from the Friends of the Ashland Public Library, a group that has been active for decades. The proposal presented to the Council was prepared for the Council to decide if this should be sent to a vote of the people. Feels that now, six months after this process was begun, there is ample opportunity to discuss the issues that are being raised.
Shaw noted that in terms of the site, surveys of the community were done in 1991 and subsequently, and it was overwhelmingly determined that people want the library to remain on the present site. Based on this, the current site was one of the parameters used from the beginning by the committee.
Bob Blankholm/202 Oak Lawn Avenue/Board member of Friends of the Library since 1989. Stressed to the new Council members that this is not a new issue, and that discussions have been occurring since 1990 or 1991. Emphasized that the county has no interest in putting an issue on the ballot for a single library, but wants to address every branch in the system. Pointed out that Rogue River raised funds to move their library to a newer, larger building, and in that case the county contributed $50,000. However, the county has not been supportive of the efforts of the Friends of the Ashland Public Library, so the issue was brought to the Council. Commented on the levy by the county, which is putting system wide library renovations on the ballot, but noted that there is no assurance that this will pass. Emphasized that a failure of the levy would push improvements to several years down the road. Stated that he was unaware of where the county's priorities are, but that in years when funds have been short in the past, libraries have been next to the bottom. Emphasized that Ashland was the only city in the county to come up with additional funds to support the library, and did so two years in a row.
Shaw added that much of the county's initiative in putting their measure on the ballot in May has been spurred by the efforts of the Friends of the Ashland Public Library. Even if this is only a small role in improving libraries throughout the county, it is a positive step. Emphasized that Ashland's efforts are in no way intended to downgrade the county library system. Noted that if the county measure passed, the Ashland bond would be used to work together with the County to support their efforts.
Blankholm emphasized that the library is 88 years old, and the last addition was 44 years ago. Urged people to realize that this is truly a long-term project.
Russ Silbiger/562 Ray Lane/Noted that current state library standards call for 0.6 square feet per person to the year 2020, which would mean the Ashland library should be 19,800 square feet.
Anna Hirst/655 Reiten Drive/Lives outside of the city limits, but uses the library often. In favor of the expansion, in light of the crowding that occurs presently. Noted that there is a question of how much space is needed, and that many open meetings have taken place on the issue of the library expansion. Questioned if Council would be willing to do a smaller building, for less money, possibly combined on a bond issue with the fire station.
Barbara Ryberg/373 Vista Street/Noted the public process that has occurred, and that it will continue to occur. Emphasized that material is being lost in the library presently. Pointed out that Ashland citizens contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of $650,000 to the county library system annually, and stated that many people do not feel that this amount corresponds to the level of service that is being returned. Explained that the condition of the building is such that the collection cannot expand, and that a new book purchased means that an older book must be removed from the shelves. Also raised the question of safety issues with the condition of the existing building, noting that librarians have been made ill by the amount of mold present from the leaks. Stated that there is not space to carry on the programs for children that they would like to, despite the demand for such programs. Asked Council to comment on the library expansion project, as she felt they were committed to this project last November.
Mayor Shaw noted the amount of time Ryberg has given to this project over the last year and a half, and recognized the level of commitment demonstrated by Ryberg and the Friends of the Ashland Public Library. Noted that Ryberg served on the selection committee for the architect, attended all meetings in the visioning process, held additional meetings to gather more community input, put out ads and door-hangers to bring people in, and canvassed 500 homes. Emphasized how impressed she is with the efforts put forth by Ryberg and the Friends of the Ashland Public Library, and how pleased she is to live in a community of people who are so committed to serving for the benefit of others.
Colin Swales/143 Eighth Street/Completely agrees with the need for expansion of the library, but has grave concerns with the size of the proposal here, or the location. Suggested that a feasibility study be conducted, and recommended giving this to the University of Oregon School of Architecture as the subject for term projects to be brought back to the Council without having to spend further tax payer monies.
Shaw noted that they had spoken to other cities who had used this approach, and that the experiences that they had were problematic at best.
Mayor Shaw read statements supporting the project into the record from: Diane Schaffer, Frank & Beth Towner, and Bryan Frink.
Shaw noted that she had asked the design team from SERA Architects if a 21,000 square foot building could be fit on the existing site. That is the proposal before the Council, with the possibility of expanding southeast. Noted that they felt this was a possibility. Recognized that there seem to be concerns over the price tag, and suggested that this be referred back to the architects for a smaller building, and a smaller bond to be placed before the voters in the future.
Laws feels that the Council did commit to putting a bond before the voters this year, but that the approximate price was understood to be $4 million. Feels that there is still a commitment to getting this issue on the ballot in a timely manner, and he could seriously consider a $4 million bond issue even before fire department plans are finalized. Noted that he would like to hear the fire station proposal before making a decision.
Laws stated that the plan submitted to the Council now has a 21,000 square foot building on the existing site, but would have almost the same amount of parking as the library presently does and proposes a way for dealing with the intersection that looks good and could add a dozen parking spaces or more. Feels that more time is needed to look at this and other options. Noted that the city is hiring a person with money from a state grant to conduct a study of this intersection, and stated that he feels that this alternative should be given to that person for consideration. Would like to move forward with studying this possibility.
Laws stated that he understands the need to put this measure on the ballot before the county moves ahead with their ballot measure for sequencing, as costs could be reduced if the county measure were passed. However, he does not want to put a bond before the voters that will be so large as to jeopardize the future fire station level. Feels that this needs to be done in the $4 million price range, with the streets and intersection to be addressed separately.
Freeman clarified that the $4 million amount discussed was from the reimbursement resolution. Explained that this was not intended to be the full project cost. Laws stated that this was not clear when the decision was made, and the commitment made by the Council was based on that figure.
Wheeldon stated that she did not remember committing to that amount. Hauck noted the building cost about $4 million by itself, and he had the idea that the entire project would be in the $4.2 to $5 million range.
Fine has been opposed to expansion on this site, but he is willing to accept the will of the majority of the Council. Feels that the lack of space is a gross inconvenience, but that while expansion is needed, the space concerns are not a hardship in the short term. Feels that there is now an opportunity for planning and staging. Can begin to set out a full blown capital construction plan, looking at projects and setting priorities. Suggested that the library needs to be a high priority, to be completed within the next two years (and preferably within the next year).
Fine stated that he feels that at this point it will not be possible to have this issue on the May ballot, and expressed his concerns over committing to a project of this size based on plans prepared by the architect in one day and faxed to the Council. Suggested making people aware of the Council's review of the capital construction planning, and considering the entire obligation on the citizens of Ashland to repay bonds. Feels that this can be done with staging of the library, the fire station, and other projects, and this could be done for the September ballot.
Hauck noted that there is a five-year capital improvement plan in place. Fine stated that this is a list of projects, but it does not include plans for funding or staging. Emphasized that there is a need to communicate to the citizens the complete amount of indebtedness expected of them. Hauck stated that he feels the capital improvement plan does include staging, and that Fine is misinterpreting the capital improvement plan.
Laws stated that the capital improvement plan does not include the library or the fire station, and has become out of date. Agreed with Fine that there is a need to pull things together, to include the street systems plan, and look at the total picture rather than the several pieces. Stated that he believes this to be an excellent suggestion.
Mayor Shaw clarified that there is no clear direction from the Council or the audience to put this issue on the May ballot. Feels this needs to go back to the committee, for further public hearings and planning. Does not feel that the project could go before the voters at this stage, without firm numbers or a clear plan. The quickly prepared plan faxed by the architects is to let the Council know whether a renovation could be made to fit the site and address parking requirements.
Wheeldon proposed developing the fire station with the library as a single bond. Cited the School District's bond as an example. Stated that while she is uncertain whether it is wise to put all projects together in one piece, she feels it is worth discussion.
Hauck stated that he did not feel that the timing of placement of items on the ballot was necessarily a statement of the priority of those items.
Shaw explained how several issues are sometimes combined for political reasons on one bond issue before the voters, so that the more "palatable" items will sway the voters toward passing the less desirable items. Expressed some concerns with handling things this way and holding one item, such as the library, hostage to the others. Also noted that lumping things together can result in difficulties with meeting schedules and cost estimates, and result in neglect of adequate public process for each individual item.
Laws expressed his agreement with what had been said by Hauck and Shaw, but noted that he had a differing analysis of community perceptions. Noted his concerns are with burdening the voters with too much debt and jeopardizing the possibility of passing anything else, such as fire stations. Emphasized his view that the fire stations are absolutely essential, and that something must be done about the library, even if it only involves fixing the existing building and adding some space. Does not feel that voters can rationally be expected to pay for everything.
Wheeldon stated that her interest in combining projects is not political, but rather to find a way to satisfy community needs and collaborate between projects.
Fine agreed with Laws, and stated that the people would vote for the fire station if their wallets were not depleted first. Stated that the Council serves to exercise judgement and formulate priorities for construction to decide in what order bonds are sent before the people. For these reasons, he sees the need to determine priorities before sending this to a vote.
Hauck disagreed, stating that both the library project and the fire station will need to occur in the same timeframe and the timing of their being placed on the ballot is not a statement of their priority. Emphasized that there is no practical difference in the priority of these projects.
Wheeldon noted that the difference is that the fire station planning effort is not as far along.
Shaw emphasized that community members have been working on the library plan since last year and the project is farther along. Shaw suggested that there have been a number of opportunities for the Council to express their preference on these two projects, and none have suggested that the library should have a lower priority until now. Pointed out the community efforts that occurred in response to the Council's previous commitment to this project.
Hauck stated that whatever decision is made, it is important to recognize that this is not a project to address short term needs. Suggested that the Council needs to have the vision to address long term needs for the community and look beyond this generation.
Laws suggested adjourning to the study session to hear the fire station presentation, then returning to the continued meeting to reach a decision on the direction to take here. Suggested that it might be possible to look at a staged approach that would result in addressing the long term needs of the community in a few steps. However, he would like to hear the fire station presentation before considering this issue further.
Councilors Laws/Fine m/s to adjourn the Council meeting until the end of the fire station study session.
Discussion: Shaw suggested that if a decision were made to hold this item for further planning, then those who are present for only this item would be free to go home. Laws stated that a figure for the fire station was relevant, and needed before making this decision. Shaw clarified for Wheeldon that she was asking that the item be sent back to the architects to bring back a smaller building design to bring the total cost down for a bond issue. Wheeldon concurred that there was a need to have an amount in mind for the fire station for clarity before making a decision.
Roll call vote: Laws, Wheeldon, and Fine, YES. Hauck and Hanson, NO. Motion passed 3-2.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:15 p.m. to the study session.
The meeting was reconvened at 1:45 p.m.
Laws suggested sending this item back to the architect to look at costs and bring back some alternatives. Also suggested sending the issue before the traffic safety commission and the consultant who will be looking at the intersection to look at traffic and parking issues. Suggested that the request should be made to plan for some parking on Siskiyou Boulevard, and to have the consultant look at the intersection with this in mind. Noted that there could potentially be problems with ODOT regarding traffic signals due to the proximity to the Fire Department.
Councilors Laws/Fine m/s to continue the contract with SERA Architects, and refer the matter back to them for some alternatives to reduce cost, and to refer the issue for study on the part of the Traffic Safety Commission and the consulting engineer studying the intersection.
Discussion: Wheeldon asked for clarification that the intersection referred to was Gresham-Main-Third in front of the Carnegie library, and not the fire station connection. Council indicated that they were referring to the whole area, including the fire station connection and the island. Hauck clarified that Laws had intended to separate the cost of work on this intersection from the library work. Shaw noted that the fire station plans should also go to the same traffic safety engineer. Laws noted that he could live with the current parking situation for a little while longer, if it was known that there would be eventual improvements down the road. Fine questioned whether it would be necessary to consider paying the consultant an additional fee beyond the $3,000-$5,000 state grant. Determined that this issue could be discussed if and when it comes up.
Roll call vote: Laws, Hauck, Hanson, Wheeldon, and Fine, YES. Motion passed.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:50 p.m.