The Board of Commissioners announced at their meeting Tuesday that they will officially vote next month (March 12, 2019) on whether or not to move the Library to the property at 520 Virginia Drive. Since then, there has been a resurgence of questions, comments and concerns from the Upper Dublin Community. It is my hope, as the Library Director these last 13 years, and someone intimately involved in every step of this process, that I may summarize for you the history of and rationale for why it is my unwavering belief that a new, expanded, 21st century library at 520 Virginia Drive is exactly what this community desires and deserves.
Modern libraries offer so much more than the UDPL can today. They are destinations unto themselves, offering public spaces for convening, collaborating and creating. Libraries are some of the only truly public spaces where everyone is welcome, and where community members of the five generations we serve, can freely meet. As such inclusive establishments, libraries help combat loneliness, isolation and divisiveness. They elevate us. One of my favorite quotes recently is from sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg (author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life). He says, “Libraries call upon us all to be at our best. They expect the best of us. They’re here to help us become the best version of ourselves.”
Libraries, like all educational institutions, also have been and continue to adapt to serve today’s learners by offering not just the tools for learning, like books and computers, but also the kinds of spaces that encourage and enhance a variety of learning and collaborative experiences. The new library is envisioned to have meeting rooms, comfortable furnishings, outdoor spaces and a café, all with the intention of encouraging people to stay and spend time, not simply to just run in and grab a book.
History and Rationale
Research, studies and surveys have informed all discussions about expanding the Library. While space constraints came up in the early 2000s, it is not until 2009 that a Space Planning Study, based significantly on community interviews, focus groups, and surveys, recommended a 40,000-square-foot library (today’s library is 15,000 square feet). Since then, there have been countless conversations, meetings, surveys and studies that have investigated a new, larger library on site (twice!), at Twining Valley, and at Sandy Run Middle School, none of which proved feasible.
A Municipal Complex Master Plan, conducted in 2017, revealed that all township departments had grown to serve increasing township demands and required more space. Through this process, it became clear that moving the Library off site would be the most cost effective and most logical given the need of the other township departments to remain together.
Following the purchase of 520 Virginia Drive, the Township responded with community engagement. The Board of Commissioners engaged a Steering Committee of 12 residents charged with developing recommendations for the future use of Township properties at 520 Virginia Drive and 801/805 Loch Alsh Avenue. Twelve hundred-sixty people answered a Library survey, which confirmed much about residents’ use of the Library today and what matters most. “Connecting children with books and instilling in them a joy of reading” was highly rated as was “serving as a source of reading materials for personal enjoyment” and “serving as an educational institution for lifelong learning.” Thirty-five percent (35%) identified a café as a desirable improvement to the existing library and 28% wanted to see more quiet space. Multiple public meetings about the new library followed in May – August 2018.
The first time we saw the property at 520 Virginia Drive it was clear that it held many assets that would complement and enhance a new library. In addition to a 300-seat auditorium, which would be perfect for the library’s regular lectures and small performances, the building was in great condition, and also had lots of natural light, high ceilings, and a built-in café. The fact that the property straddles the office park and the neighborhoods, that it was more centrally located in the Township, and that it was connected by sidewalks to the high school/township complex were vital pluses. Slated for re-zoning, the Library’s relocation has been recognized as an important component in the Fort Washington Office Park’s revitalization.
There are two types of costs associated with the new library project, (1) the estimated capital costs and (2) the estimated annual operating costs. 520 Virginia Drive was purchased in November 2017 for $5.08 million. The estimated costs for repurposing the building for the library alone is an additional $10 million. These capital expenses have and will continue to have no effect on residents’ annual township taxes. Funds are intended to come from drop-off debt, sale of property, grants and fundraising.
Fundraising, in the form of gifts, Friends memberships and grants, has enabled the Library to enhance services, equipment and facilities for years. A capital fundraising campaign was always part of the discussion from the time of the building’s purchase, and is an important way for the Library to not only enhance the vision for the project, but to also ensure that the Library is sustained for future generations.
The added annual operating costs for this new facility are continuously under consideration, which we will still work to reduce. The most recent figures show a 2.5% increase in the library tax and a 3.5% increase in the township tax to run the new facility. For the average taxpaying household, this means a $68 increase in taxes, which will be phased in over 2-3 years. Currently, the average household pays just $103/year for the library. Considering that people borrowed close to $1 million (retail) in materials during the summer months last year, clearly residents are recognizing a return on their investment.
Share Your Thoughts
People love the UDPL. I hear it all the time. There are many wonderful services that we will continue to provide in the new Library, and the library staff and I, all the faces and names you know, will still be there to welcome and assist you. But change is the only constant, and, in being good stewards of your Library, it’s also our responsibility to adapt and improve.
I hope that I have been helpful in informing the conversation about a new library. I encourage you to share your thoughts, concerns and questions with us—myself, the Township Manager and your Commissioner. This is the time to make your voice heard.
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