September 24, 2013

Carroll City Council members Monday night voted unanimously to hire a Wisconsin firm to conduct an exhaustive public library space-needs study - featuring a mailed survey expected to hit 2,000 homes in the city - to lay the foundation for a plan to expand the current lending facility or build a new one.

Himmel & Wilson Library Consultants of Milton, Wis., will be paid $26,000 for the study, expected to start on Oct. 1 and conclude in late January. The Carroll Library Foundation, a private, non-profit, has provided $4,000 in funding, with another $3,000 coming through the State Library of Iowa. The city will pay for $19,000 of the work.

Himmel & Wilson, in existence since 1987, has been involved with more than 350 library developments in 43 states, said Bill Wilson, a partner in the firm.

The company plans to take into account a host of data, from collection space demands to public gathering areas to computer and support needs, in assessing what Carroll requires for a modern library.

The public will be involved at the outset to develop a strong buy-in to any eventual project, council members said.

"I am big on public involvement," said Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann. "I think we are all thinking that way."

Mayor Adam Schweers expressed reservations about the $10,000 cost for a stand-alone mail survey that Wilson said would be sent to 2,000 random households. He wondered about the prospects for a reasonable return rate. But once the council moved on that plan, Schweers urged residents who receive the surveys in coming weeks to take them seriously and send them back with complete answers.

"Ten minutes of your time is worth a lot of money to you," Schweers said, adding the citizen input will shape the ambition of the library project.

Public focus groups on the library will he held as well.

"This is the grassroots start and where we want to begin from," said Councilman Jeff Scharfenkamp.

A building program component of the plan will provide a space-needs assessment for 20 years of library use.

Wilson said the main thrust will be on space - not an evaluation of potential locations.

Carroll voters in August 2011 overwhelmingly turned down a financing referendum for a planned new 32,000-square-foot, $7.4 million library at the former Heider Manufacturing property south of the Union Pacific Railroad lines and west of Main Street, effectively sending back to elected officials and library volunteers a decision on whether to build a new public lending facility, add onto the current one or do nothing at all.

The referendum that would have allowed the city to issue up to $6 million in general-obligation bonds failed with 22 percent supporting and 78 percent casting ballots against the public measure. The referendum required a super-majority of 60 percent for passage.

Two weeks ago, in a nearly three-hour meeting, most of it consumed by the library discussion, council members said a proposal presented by Schweers and the Carroll Library Foundation for a $7,000 space-needs study fell short on details. Siemann led the push for the more comprehensive study approved Monday.