August 13, 2013

Library Board of Trustees president Tom Louis is right: the people of Carroll, and its elected officials, should see estimates and a draft plan of what an expansion of the current library at the Farner Government building would cost - perhaps at varying sizes.

The city also should consider commissioning an updated space-needs study for library services in Carroll - from a firm that would meet with both council approval and possess credentials to satisfy vocal critics of the previous library consultant.

That firm, whatever it is, and Carroll's elected officials, also should offer the public a choice and study a plan to build a modern library at the Carroll Recreation Center in concert with upgrades to that 40-year-old facility.

Recreation Center and library advocates and city officials have been rolling around this strategy for some time now.

It deserves to be in the bloodstream of ideas. Carroll could have a signature Rec Center/public library, a one-stop location for the advancement of the physical and intellectual development of our young and old alike. Former generations of Carroll leaders would have jumped at the blend of boldness and common sense - a project visitors to our city would talk about days after leaving Carroll. We used to be motivated by endeavors of surpassing separating quality (see the Rec Center and Merchants Park).

Bill Farner and Father Kuemper and the Art Neus wouldn't have simply asked: How many books does the library have to hold and how big should it be? Sure, they'd do their utilitarian diligence, make sure the place was built to last. But they'd send a signal with such a public-works project, too: Carroll is first-class, and always does these things better than a city of 10,000 should dare.

Who among our local leaders dares around here anymore?

We can't even get past "go" to basic, vanilla, that'll-just-do, with a library.

But there are reasonable, straightforward steps right there in the naked light of day for Carroll City Council members to take. And excuses, diversions and blame-gaming are tired business from our elected officials.

After all, the improvement of the Carroll Public Library is one of the council's priorities, and has been for some time.

Mayor Adam Schweers has worked in recent months with a citizens' group on the city hall library expansion plan. No actionable ideas have emerged to this point, and those familiar with library developments don't see much promise of breakthroughs, either.

Meanwhile, Library Board of Trustees members, at the urging of the mayor and the citizens group, the Carroll Library Expansion Committee, LLC, have remained quiet about any ideas for a next step, a follow-up plan to the failed Heider building concept. Trustees were told the mayor and the Carroll Library Expansion Committee would come forward with a plan. They were asked to please keep their power dry. They did.

Now where does Carroll find itself in the Great Library Hunt? The library didn't even make the 2013 Action Plan approved by the Carroll City Council Monday night. City Manager Gerald Clausen said that's because the library project is "ongoing." So are the five items on the action plan list: Rec Center improvements, Highway 30/Grant Road upgrades, the addition of a lazy river at the aquatic center, trails development and train-horn noise mitigation. We have published dozens of stories on those issues over the last two decades so they're sorely miscast as fresh takes, and Clausen knows this better than anyone within shouting distance of city hall.

Here are some new numbers: the door count of patrons at the Carroll Public Library stood at 2,434 from July 8-13 - or an average of 487 people per day.

By any measure, the Carroll Public Library is a vital facility, one that has been wonderfully shepherded by director Kelly Fischbach. Advocates raised well over $1 million in private donations and grants for a new library - and former St. Lawrence Catholic School fifth-grade teacher Donna Bergeson, who passed away a year ago, has donated about $600,000 to the Carroll Public Library Foundation through her estate.

Taxpayers won't have to foot the full bill to construct a better library, wherever it may be located.

A private business in Carroll reportedly is purchasing the Heider property for storage, so any idea of transforming it into a library is off the table, if anyone had designs on resurrecting that concept.

Carroll needs an improved library. This is no secret to our mothers who value reading. This is obvious to recruiters of employees and new businesses.

The absence of a modern, adequate library is a glaring oversight for a community that otherwise is so enviably positioned to attract young families.

There are well-intentioned advocates on the Board of Trustees, and thoughtful contributions from others.

But it is high time the city council and mayor took the lead on a future-minded Carroll Public Library. Or, if they just want to pass on it, our elected officials at least should have the courage to simply say they want no part of the difficult task and stop talking about the library at their planning meetings.

They can make life easy on themselves and enlist some grade-schoolers to help them sell a dog park instead.