The latest Dakota Free Press Podcast is ready for your earbuds! In Episode #15, we talk Pierre political activist Roxanne Weber, organizer of protests, a ballot measure, and a couple of fall forums to promote civil discourse.
But first, co-host Spencer Dobson and I talk about how the richer and poorer perceive their sickness and health (and how the ACA is helping and Trumpublicans are not), the great China–U.S. chicken for beef trade (I think the Chinese are getting the better deal), the Aberdeen library’s effort to help new Americans, and, so we can practice our new favorite word, the big nonmeandered waters bill passed by the Legislature on Monday.
“The A Place is exactly the kind of community center for all residents to come to get basic needs and information met,” said Naomi Ludeman Smith, member of the Aberdeen Area Diversity Coalition. “Especially our new immigrant community.”
The service provided by the library is nothing new, [library director Shirley] Arment said in January. There isn’t room at the current library for the resource, but the new library, with all of its space on one open floor, will be able to set aside the square footage [Katherine Grandstrand, “$35K Grant Goes to Newcomer Resource Center,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.06.12].
The Diversity Coalition is trying to bring another project to the library to make new Americans feel more at home… and to make us feel more at home with our new neighbors:
After it opens, the Diversity Coalition hopes to bring a traveling exhibit called “Green Card Voices” to the library, as discussed at its June 1 meeting. The exhibit features stories of legal permanent residents in the U.S.
“It’s exactly the thing that the Aberdeen community is asking for: ‘Please, can you educate us about who our new immigrant neighbors are?’” Ludeman Smith said [Grandstrand, 2017.06.12].
Based in Minneapolis, Green Card Voices records immigrants’ stories—”whether they’re naturalized citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asylees, or persons on temporary visas—and share[s] them with as large of an audience as we can reach.” Green Card Voices showed at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, this spring. The organization compiles videos of immigrants talking about their new American experience and has compiled books of immigrant stories from high schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Fargo:
The A Place and Green Card Voices both are good ways for our public library to carry out its mission to knit our community together with knowledge.
With Aberdeen’s new library set to open on September 11, we have to figure out what to do with the old one on Sixth Avenue Southeast and Kline Street. The Aberdeen Chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau have offered to buy the building and turn it into a new, more central and visible visitor center:
It’s a perfect location. The property is situated along 6th Avenue, which will greatly increase the visibility of our organizations and the services we provide. With over 30,000 cars driving by per day, we will be better able to direct people to Downtown Aberdeen, Storybook Land, Northern State University, Presentation College, and other businesses and landmarks within the community [Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, “Our Vision for a NEW Welcome/Visitor Center,” retrieved 2017.06.11].
For their chance to stake their flag in front of 30,000 cars (and a few bicycles!) each day, the Chamber and CVB in March offered $350,000. After obtaining an appraisal of the old library building of $1.17 million, the city is seeking higher bids:
The city’s current public library on Sixth Avenue Southeast will go up for auction in September.
That auction is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 26, City Attorney Ron Wager said in a news release. Bidders can participate by submitting qualified sealed bids of at least $500,000, he said [Elisa Sand, “City Library Property Auction Will Be in September,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.06.09].
What if nobody submits a qualifying bid? Highly unlikely, but that would restart the thinking back to square one.
We have been reminded over and over in these recent years of Aberdeen area progress that not much growth happens until someone with access to capital decides to risk some of it. It’s justifiable for us to thank, in advance, any investors willing to make a qualifying bid and bet on Aberdeen’s future [Mayor Mike Levsen, “Library Auction Set, Now It’s up to the Bidders,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.06.09].
Water Infiltration: Chronic water infiltration, including leaks from the roof and windows, have compounded the flooding that has occurred in the basement on numerous occasions. Mold, dirt, humidity and the ongoing threat of flooding have rendered only 30% of the basement usable for library activity (meeting rooms).
Aged Infrastructure: Constructed in 1963, the current library building is not in full compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and lacks the electrical, cabling, and internet services required by any modern-day structure.
An Uninspiring Setting: The current library has low ceilings, cramped quarters, bad lighting, obscured windows, and a hodge-podge of furnishings. This does not provide for a space that energizes and inspires patrons. It is not inviting [Aberdeen Public Library Foundation, “We Are Not Meeting the Needs of the Community,” 2015.06.29].
But let’s be optimists! Like the Chamber, I can see the great potential of a location right on busy Sixth and broad, beautiful Kline (which is really a fun street to take from campus to Manor Park). Suppose there are some capitalist gamblers willing to take Mayor Levsen up on this bet. What could they do with that lot?
A new restaurant to fill one glaring gap in Aberdeen’s culinary offerings: Middle Eastern food! Think Mim’s Café in St. Paul. Aberdeen needs shwarma!
The Corner Book Shoppe could consider a bold move two blocks west and south. The old library is probably more space than Aberdeen’s only used book store needs, but perhaps they expand the bibliophiliac experience by going halfsies with a nice coffee shop, like, oh, say…
Caribou Coffee! That coffee shop would gain no visibility moving just two blocks west, but they could finally solve their parking lot chaos with a reconfiguration of the old library’s more spacious north parking lot.
Let’s see if real businesspeople can come up with any better plans… and the half-million dollars to make the city pay attention to their bids.
Two thirds of that opening $300K comes from folks buying up some of the cheaper naming rights for rooms in the new library. Still available are the main reading areas and the big enchilada, the granite or steel or unobtanium letters that one million dollars will bolt to the front of the building to record some wise donor’s philanthropy and bibliophilia for generations to come.
Aberdeen has done a pretty good job of naming its schools for local educators. We have no takers yet on the million-dollar naming rights for our new library. The Dakota Free Press tip jar is ringing (and welcomes your contributions today!), but I don’t anticipate spending a million dollars to etch Heidelberger or even the historically significant Dakota Freie Presse over the new library doors. However, I encourage any potential seven-figure donor to forgo the temptation to corporate advertisement (Dollar Loan Center Public Library? Imagine the horrors!) and honor the library and the community with a historic personal name integral to the development of Aberdeen.
2,365 people came to the polls yesterday on top of 1,621 who voted early at the courthouse. Yesterday’s voters weren’t affected by the weather much: we had a little fog and slickeriness throughout the day, but the big snow didn’t start falling until about the time the polls closed. Early voters made up a whopping 40.67% of the total. For perspective, the nationwide early-voting rate in the 2012 general election was 14%.
Voters aren’t assigned specific polling places, so the vote totals from each station don’t necessarily reflect geographical samples of voters sentiment. But every polling place and the early vote had nearly the same 60–40 split in favor of the library.
Library bond opponent Santema commends both sides on good get-out-the-vote efforts. Turnout was about 25%, which beats the pants off the abysmal 3.5% who turned out on a nice sunny June day to vote in this year’s Aberdeen school board election and is a snudge better than the national average local election turnout in the low 20’s… but come on, fellow practitioners and beneficiaries of democracy! Three quarters of you let one quarter of us make the decisions? A new library gets built because 15% of voters say Yes, 10% say No, and 75% say Meh? I suppose I could take your trust in your fellow citizen as a compliment, but remember, neighbors: every time you choose not to vote, you’re letting me make a decision for you.
Construction on the new library should begin next year. I look forward to walking there with my daughter and reading by the big windows in all that natural light.
I conducted no formal poll of last night’s audience, but the majority appeared to support the library bond issue. The audience applauded once during the entire event, in response to a statement from the floor by local library architect Thomas Hurlbert addressing multiple issues raised by panel members and questioners. In response to an argument from city councilman and bond issue opponent Todd Campbell that Aberdeen could remodel the library for less money along the lines of the three-million-dollar renovation of City Hall completed last year, Hurlbert said he loves historic buildings but that the current public library, built in 1962, does not have the same architectural value as the 100-year-old City Hall (and Hurlbert acknowledged that his grandfather’s name is on the builder’s plaque at the current library). Hurlbert said the parking concerns raised by placing the new library next to the civic arena are insignificant, given that the downtown location used to handle the daily parking and traffic rushes of old Central High School, the Bethlehem Church that used to occupy the new library site, more downtown businesses, and more activities at the Civic Arena. Hurlbert said moving the library up from Sixth Avenue into the downtown area allows for “synergy” and “sharing.”
“We’re in a real fight for our long-term well-being,” said Hurlbert. “Great planning is critical. Putting a library downtown is a piece of the puzzle” for helping Aberdeen grow, keeping people here, and making a great place for families. Hurlbert said nobody asked him to design an “average” or “cheap” facility, but he noted that his design actually costs less than comparable projects nationwide. “I want a jewel in this town… something people are going to be proud of.” That line got the audience to put their hands together.
Contrast Hurlbert’s statement with a library opponent’s statement from the floor. One man (my apologies for not catching his name) rose to challenge library board member and NSU English professor Peter Ramey, who had spoken exuberantly about the need to build a new library to accommodate families with young kids like his.
I’ll admit, I was a little bothered by Professor Ramey’s repeated use of phrases like “It’s just so obvious to me” and “the answer is clear,” phrases I usually recognize in speech and writing as a sign of stretching an argument beyond the evidence available.
But I was more bothered by the questioner’s attack on Ramey’s position. The questioner opened by noting Ramey’s mention of a nice library in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and asked, “Do we want to be Minnesota?” More specifically, the questioner said he came to South Dakota to get away from taxes like those in Minnesota.
If at any point I was inclined to simply report on the town hall meeting and let the voters drop their chips where they may, that comment tipped me toward full vocal support of the bond issue.
“Do we want to be Minnesota?” Um, heck yeah!
According to data provided by Americans for the Arts, Minnesota has twice the arts economy of Wisconsin though its populations are close to the same, and 12 1/2 times that of South Dakota.
Asked why the gap is so pronounced, Sheila Smith, director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), cited the state’s long history of public and private giving to the arts.
“Minnesota has benefited from 100 years of great civic leadership that has focused on the idea that everyone should have access to arts and culture no matter what their circumstances,” she said [Kristin Tillotson, “Arts’ Economic Impact Greater in Minnesota than Its Neighors,” Minneapolis Star Tribune: Artcetera, 2015.12.02].
Minnesota gets something for its taxes; South Dakota suffers for the selfish, short-sighted stinginess inherent in the questioner’s sally against Ramey, Minnesota, and taxes. Besides, as bond issue supporter and city councilman Rob Ronayne said last night, the bond issue only reallocates existing municipal sales tax revenue. Passing the measure will not raise our taxes; rejecting the measure will not lower our taxes. To say that the library bond issue is a foolish aspiration to Minnesotan fiscal frippery and hoity-toitiness is itself foolish.
In further foolishness, the questioner claimed that there are 9,084 public libraries in United States (the American Library Association says 9,082, with 8,895 central buildings and 7,641 branch buildings) but 19,400 incorporated cities. “Are libraries necessary for some place?” the questioner offered. “Apparently not.”
It is perhaps unfair to hang a political movement on the harmful thinking of a handful of its proponents. However, the questioner’s comment followed an argument from Riedel about how his family had given donations in October to the Aberdeen Boys and Girls Club and the Safe Harbor domestic abuse shelter. “If things need to be done,” said Riedel, “people in Aberdeen will do it. We don’t need to expect government to do it all.”
Here Riedel slides from practical budgetary and architectural concerns to abstract Republican (anarchist?) sloganeering. Sure, lots of things happen without government action. But a public library is a civic institution. Every city should provide its residents with access to information and learning opportunities. Aberdeen is actually getting a deal, with the private library foundation spotting half of the $700K purchase price of the new library lot and pledging to kick in $2.1 million of the building costs. That’s more than a quarter of the project cost. How often do taxpayers get a deal like that, private donors picking up a quarter of the tab to build a police station, a road, or a water treatment plant? As panelist and library board president Maeve King said, it’s just not realistic that city government would not invest in a public library.
As I noted, the audience applauded Hurlbert’s comments; no similar applause rose for the comments of library bond opponents. And while I don’t like following the crowd, the juxtaposition of Hurlbert’s civic pride and the opponent’s fear of getting all taxy-fancy like Minnesota neatly encapsulate my reasons for following the applauding crowd on this issue and urging my neighbors to vote Yes on December 15. Approve the library bond, and let’s build this new library.
With the Ramada now closed (all of its furnishings go on sale tomorrow, and the building will apparently be demolished), Brown County auditor Maxine Fischer has arranged for the even less accessible AmericInn east of the mall out back of Menards to serve as a voting center along with the Ramkota on the west edge of town and the courthouse downtown. That makes two voting centers out of three to which there is no safe, dedicated pedestrian access. (Try getting to the Ramkota on foot: there is no marked crosswalk across 281, and the strange oblique angle of that intersection dangerously lengthens foot crossing time.)
My blog neighbor Ken Santema opposes building a new library. He calls the proposed new building a “vanity project” filled with unnecessary meeting space and aesthetic frills that don’t meet the core informational mission of the public library. I contend that aesthetics have quite a bit to do with the mission of a library. People don’t leave their homes to go sit in a dark cell with a book and a candle. “Big beautiful windows”—also known as natural lighting—and other healthy design elements make a space more conducive to study and recreational reading. Meeting space is a natural extension of the informational mission of a library: citizens come to the library to learn from books, from computers, and from each other.
Another Brown County neighbor, Bill Welk, has been peppering the local paper with ads presenting semi-coherent rants against the library and city government. One of his more tantalizing arguments was that the city would forfeit the current library land if it moved our books to a new facility, since the original donor of the library lot required that the land be used for nothing but a library (like the original deed requirement that the Dakota State University campus in Madison revert to heirs of 1880s donor Charles B. Kennedy if the state ever stopped offering a teacher education program there). Elisa Sand put that misunderstanding to rest last week:
James A. Milligan donated the lot for the public library. According to a 1959 report in the Aberdeen American News, when Milligan donated the land, the library was in the upper levels of two Main Street businesses, and city officials were discussing the construction of a new library.
According to the deed, Milligan’s property was donated for the sole purpose of building a new library within 10 years. If no library was built, the property would have reverted back to the family, according to the deed, which also said that once the library was built, the restriction was voided.
In other words, the piece of property doesn’t have to be a city library for eternity.
Folks using lies to sway elections generally trigger my oppositional defiance (don’t call it a disorder!) and make me want to vote the other way all the more. I am pleased the city has given me the chance to vote that way before Christmas. I look forward to several thousand of you joining me to vote the same way on December 15!
Faulkton voters will have their say on whether their school district should spend millions of dollars to build a new building and renovate some existing school space. AAN’s Shannon Marvel reports the Faulkton school board doesn’t have a full blueprint or price tag for the project yet, but at their Monday meeting, they committed to putting whatever plan they come up with to a public vote.
The Aberdeen American News has not had a chance to opine on putting that project to a vote in Faulkton, but my local editorial board gave both barrels Sunday to the effort to put Aberdeen’s new library project to a vote. Among their beefs is the cost of the election and potential delay of the project:
A special election could cost around $15,000.
If the ordinance is struck down, the city council would then have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new way to fund the library. And that solution may not be as cost-effective as the bond.
If there is no plan and the project is not shovel-ready by July 1, 2016, the city of Aberdeen will be required to pay back $350,000 — plus interest — to the Alexander Mitchell Library Foundation.
If the council decides to abandon the project, the money spent on architects, land purchases and other incidentals is not refundable. That money is wasted. Gone forever.
That is about $1.7 million.
Are petitioners telling you that before you sign on? [editorial, “Build This Library,” Aberdeen American News, editorial, 2015.10.11]
$15,000—that’s less than a buck a voter. That seems a small price tag for the opportunity to once and for all stamp the people’s imprimatur on Aberdeen’s library project.
As for the much more significant costs of delaying the project, library backers should hold that fire for the vote, not the petition drive. The city doesn’t lose one cent invested in the project upon the submission of the referendum petitions (due next week!). The city faces possible losses only if library backers don’t mobilize a majority at the polls. Given the resources available for such a campaign (the library foundation has taken out a full-page, well-designed ad in the paper to promote the project; library opponents take out little two column text boxes to vent their nebulous frustrations), library backers should be able to win a public vote. On the off chance they don’t, the city’s sunk costs don’t suddenly vaporize. The city can modify its plan, whip out a new resolution, and challenge opponents to another electoral duel well before July 1, 2016.
Proponents of the library need not be opponents of a popular vote. Like the Faulkton school board, they should embrace the chance to show that opponents of public investment and progress are in the minority.
At yesterday’s Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee luncheon, city councilman Clint Rux said that if Riedel can submit 867 signatures by end-of-business October 21, the city can either hold a special election for the referendum or wait until the next regular municipal election in June 2016 (see SDCL 9-20-11). If we opt for a special election, statute requires the city order that special election within ten days of receiving the referendum petition but no earlier than thirty days after that order. If they moved quickly, the council could hold that special election right before Thanksgiving.
Councilman Rux said a special election would cost about $15,000 (and if we have one, we’d better have more than 3.5% of voters show up, dang it!). But waiting for the June election could cost much more. Rux said that waiting until June for voter approval would mean bidding the project during summer construction season, when it will be hard to get competitive bids. A special election in November would thus add less to the overall cost of building a better library.
I’m not carrying Riedel’s petition, but I’m wondering if I should sign it and help bring the library bonds to a vote. In the past eight months, Aberdeen has struck me as a reasonably progressive town that gets things done. The Aberdeen Public Library Foundation has already bought a full-page ad in the paper congratulating the council on its vote and discouraging a referendum as needless delay; I suspect the foundation has the resources to mobilize its progressive neighbors to a Yes vote. A public vote would serve to quash the library grousing once and for all: the people would speak, they’d likely say yes, fund it and build it, and that would be that.
Am I reading the electorate wrong, Aberdeen neighbors? Are Team Riedel and anti-library sentiment bigger than I think? And even if they are, should we not take our chances with a public vote on this historic project?
That seems like a pretty good comparison: tiny Hoven gets a whole school for $5.1 million (from Aberdeen contractor Kyburz, no less), and we can’t get a simple public library for a similar amount?
Then again, let’s do simple math: Hoven is builing a 19,000-square-foot addition for grades 7–12 attached to its elementary school. That’s $268 per square foot. Aberdeen’s new library will be 28,200 square feet. That’s $284 per square foot.
The Hoven School District serves mostly Potter County, with bits of Walworth, Edmunds, and Faulk. (Boy, you want to see gerrymandering? Take a look at the intertwining of Hoven and Gettysburg school districts!) Let’s just take Potter County as their base service population. The Hoven school serves a community of about 2,300 people. Their new school is an investment of about $2,200 per constituent.
The Aberdeen public library serves at least the city of Aberdeen, if not all of Brown County (and I won’t go further and use Mayor Levsen’s quite supportable claim that the Hub City really serves a regional community of 75,000). Depending on whether we use Brown County’s population of 36,531 or Aberdeen’s population of 26,091, we get a per-constituent cost of the new library of $219 to $307.
Duane Riedel has a network of petitioners ready to refer the new library financing to a vote to stop it. I welcome their efforts at democracy… but they won’t want to use the Hoven comparison to bolster their case.