April 18, 2014

A veteran library consultant selected and given a larger contract with the urging of Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann says the city should sign a proposed lease arrangement with Badding Construction for library services instead of adding on to current lending space in the Farner Government Building.

"The real question is what is the most cost effective way to do something that improves the dismal facility and enables 21st century public library services," Bill Wilson told The Daily Times Herald on Thursday. "I firmly believe that the lease scenario accomplishes this far better than the addition to the existing structure and clearly beats doing nothing."

Wilson is a partner with Himmel & Wilson, a Wisconsin firm that has been involved with more than 350 library developments in 43 states since its founding in 1987.

"These are reputable people," Siemann said at a recent council meeting. She followed that up by telling Wilson, in person during another council session, "Again, you are the expert."

In September, during a nearly three-hour meeting, most of it consumed by the library discussion, council members said a proposal by Mayor Adam 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, one with a $26,000 price tag, from Himmel & Wilson.

Schweers said Carolyn Siemann and her husband, Greg Siemann, a Carroll attorney and former Library Board of Trustees member, were the ones who recommended Wilson's firm.

"Bill Wilson was really brought to me and to the council through them," Schweers said. "They certainly sang his praises."

Carroll Public Library Director Kelly Fischbach, echoed that, saying Greg Siemann repeatedly referenced Himmel & Wilson in conversations with her on the library before the Foundation and city council members selected the firm.

During another three-hour council session on Monday, Carolyn Siemann, from her 4th Ward council seat, and Greg Siemann, from the public podium in the council chambers, collaborated in making a spirited case against a lease option proposed by Schweers and Badding Construction President Nick Badding.

Badding proposed a lease of five years and seven months, with five consecutive, five-year lease options. Bottom line, said Nick Badding, a 20-year lease option would save the city $3.2 million when compared with constructing or expanding a library with 20 years of debt financing, based on a bond issue of $4.5 million at 4 percent interest.

Greg Siemann, sourcing state library data as a basis, presented figures he said showed the Badding lease option over 20 years would cost the city $22 million in operating and rent expenses. That compares, he said, with $9 million for "just operating costs" of the current library. In that examination of figures, Greg Siemann said, operating costs at the library - not including the lease and common-area maintenance - would soar from $400,000 at the current library to $1 million in a 23,000-square-foot library by 2028.

After reviewing Greg Siemann's presentation, Wilson said it amounted to "apples-to-oranges comparisons."

"What he presents is the costs of essentially doing nothing - who knows what he means by renovating the existing building- versus doing the interior build-out of the leased structure," Wilson said. "He then very conveniently jumps to the costs for building a new 23,000-square-foot building at the lease renewal increments. At the minimum, he should be presenting a third scenario if he's going to do so, that is, the cost of building a 23,000-square-foot building today versus the lease scenario."

Wilson, who conducted a survey and held focus groups, is also on record as saying the most politically palatable library-improvement plan in Carroll, the one that would stand the best chance to clear a referendum, would be an addition to the current library. Wilson said local elections on libraries often are marked with larger voices for older voters, leaving out younger voters with kids who may be more likely to approve of more modern features for libraries.

Carolyn Siemann Monday used Wilson's assessment of the political climate in Carroll to make the case for a $2.5 million bond issue to fund an expansion at the current library.

Carolyn Siemann said in the final analysis, renting makes no sense for the city as it amounts to investing money in a private entity's capital.

"That's the truth when you lease," she said.

At its meeting Monday the council asked for a menu of four choices to consider later: a five-year and 10-year lease plan with Badding Construction at the Depot Business Center, figures on an expansion of the current, 10,400-square-foot library and long-term financing numbers on construction of a 20,000-square-foot, stand-alone library with no specific location.

City staff, elected officials and "other interested parties" are expected to collect that information for a future council meeting, said City Finance Director Laura Schaefer. The city began working to modernize the library in 2001 following a study of all municipal facilities.