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Florence Officials Angry that Library Doesn't Plan New Building in City

The Boone County Public Library's new facility plan does not include a new library for the City of Florence, angering city officials.

Library Director Carrie Hermann presented the plan Tuesday evening.

One after another, council members expressed their feelings, upset that Walton would receive a new $10 million branch but not Florence.

Council members argued that Florence has seven times the population and tax base than Walton and that land has been set aside for a new building. Instead, the library's plan includes a possible $2.5 to $3 million improvement to the existing Florence branch on U.S. 42.

"You do realize that is not acceptable?," Councilwoman Dr. Julie Metzger Aubuchon stated. "I love the library, I am a library supporter, and that is why it is disparaging to me, and upsetting to me that I can't advocate for my citizens to have the same experience that I have had!"

Councilman J. Kelly Huff said that he didn't want to shoot the messenger, meaning Herrmann, but that he told everyone that he did consulting for Fortune 500 companies all over the United States, and in his opinion the library's unbiased consulting company, MSR, got biased information.

"If you want an unbiased opinion, or an unbiased perspective on that, you should never have shared that report you did twenty years ago," said Huff. Then he asked for the numbers. "What is the cost of the Walton facility, brand new facility versus the cost of our band-aid, I mean, our remodel?"

The timeline now is for the new Walton branch to be completed in 2024 while the Florence remodel would be scheduled for completion in 2026.

Councilman Mel Carroll said that a whole generation of children would lose out on services that they need now.

Huff said that the library had referenced a plan for the future, with an expectation that Hebron would grow larger which is why its branch was constructed to consider that.

"Well, guess what? The need is here, right now," Huff said. "Why do they take precedence?"

Carroll agreed with Huff.

"All the time when you bring a consultant in, they kind of have a general idea about what the administration is looking for," he said. "I have dealt with it in my own professional career, and I've seen it in other places. And sometimes you pretty much get what you pay for. They know what you are looking for, and they are going to lean in that direction."

Florence set aside a parcel of land near the current branch in the city, built in the 1970s, on a morethan five-acre site that was previously home to the Florence Nursery. The city expected a new branch after Hebron, Burlington, Walton, and Union came online.

"Your budget comes from taxes," Carroll said. "A disproportionate share comes from the City of Florence. We are subsidizing the rest of the county. The issue I have is that we are not getting our money's worth. The kids are not getting their money's worth. There is no bus service to Union or Burlington. The kids can't walk."

Mayor Diane Whalen was stunned.

"Where does that financing (go) as far as a whole new facility versus adding onto, retrofitting and continuing to pack ten pounds into a five-pound lot, as far as access to parking, and just the ability to provide what we believe the City of Florence, and particularly the east side of the City of Florence needs, the access to the same type of facility, the same type of services, the same type of modern that the rest of the county is being provided," she said. "And it is the same conversation we have all the time."

Herrmann went on to praise the rectangle shape of the current library in Florence and said so much can be done with a rectangle. 

She acknowledged that the front of the building looks like a 1970s building, but she went on to say that the Florence building needs meeting rooms, so that is what the renovation is going to provide. 

She also said that since the Florence branch and the Scheben branch in Union are within a 15-minute drive of each other, the public library system doesn't want to duplicate services.

However, people in Florence who don't have access to a car will find it very difficult to get to the other branches, council members argued. Even with a vehicle, the increase in traffic on Routes 18 and 42 in Union makes it difficult to get to the different branches. 

Herrmann did say halfway through the study, TANK changed its routes.

She also said that the researchers said that the Florence branch should be considered an urban branch and they know that they need to increase story times, especially  bilingual story times, as well as adding a makers space.

"I am extremely disappointed to see that Walton, which is a less dense area, is going to get a 20,000 square foot, brand spanking new library, and we're going to get a renovated, add-on, with 16,000 square foot when we have at least triple the population," said Metzger Aubuchon. "It's unacceptable to me, this plan. I feel like what the mayor touched on. We need a new library, state of the art, for our residents here, and it needs to be just as good. It doesn't need to be an add-on in the back for meeting rooms, it needs to be well done, well executed, and just as viable as every other library in the system. 

"And it is more important that the computer use needs to be there. A lot of people walk to this library."

"We are kind of shocked at what you are showing us here tonight," said Councilman David A. Osborne. "But I think the biggest thing is, this is political, and someone is responsible, that they don't want to give Florence a new library. Somebody, a board member, I don't know. But the point is, we bought that land with good expectations at that particular time. We have had offers to the city for them to buy it from us, but we have been holding on to it with the expectation that we would get a different library. And it is disheartening when you see there is more traffic flow on Route 42, and then we have a new library in Hebron. The people that started the library in Boone County came from the City of Florence. And we went out on a limb to get that, and charging a library tax, which we were chastised for. And Mel (Carroll) brought it up, Florence is not only paying their fair share of taxes, but they're paying other peoples' fair share. 

"I hope this is not set in stone, I really do. I hope they give Florence a second chance."

He said that Florence will have to decide what to do with the land at some point.

Carroll also begged Herrmann to have the board reconsider.

"We want to see some return on our taxes," he stated. "This is dear to our hearts!"

"It is a burden to go to Burlington," said Councilman Josh Walton. "We go once a week with our kids. We live in the middle. I don't think we can overestimate what a new branch would bring to this side of the city. My daughter is almost five and she can't wait to go to the library."  

"My big question is," Walton said, "what is it that we can possibly do, because this is looking out five years in the future? I know the mayor and council have been planning, with a piece of land ready to go for a long time. If you're sitting here in our seat, what would you want to try to do to change the plan. Do we need to do a public relations campaign, do we need to get people fired up, and demand that the board be shuffled. What do we need to do, I guess I'm asking."

Mayor Whalen said that the city made a presentation to the board already and would do it again  

"We have done what you suggested," the mayor said. "We can do it again."

"We are not giving up," Whalen continued. "We are committed to the fact that we believe we are as deserving, if not more so, of a new facility. We're not ready to accept this as gospel and we will remain a part of this conversation. Maybe we need to find our own consultant, to take a look at how we would best be served by the library and the expenditure of money from the funds that we are paying into to provide us with the same quality and size facility as the City of Walton and the additions to the other facilities."

-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Boone Co. Public Library in Burlington

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