The Sun Prairie City Council’s Committee of the Whole voted unanimously May 21 to support the plan to expand the current Sun Prairie Public Library and consider branches in the future if space needs are warranted.

The vote followed a presentation that included the Sun Prairie Library Board’s recommendation to expand the existing library, as well as a discussion about support for the project.

But the discussion included what some alders referred to as supporting the idea of expansion because of some large ticket items facing the city in the coming years.

Background

Sun Prairie Library Director Svetha Hetzler reviewed some of the background associated with the library expansion. The expansion of the library is needed because of a 2040 library service population of 58,287, which includes 45,580 City of Sun Prairie residents and 12,707 additional area residents who use the Sun Prairie Public Library.

That number includes the towns of Bristol, Sun Prairie and Burke; the villages of Cottage Grove and Windsor and even the City of Madison.

Besides reminding alders about the lengthy steering committee process that included extensive public input, Hetzler reviewed cost figures associated with a previous expansion option.

On Thursday, May 9, 2019, the Library Board met to consider, discuss and take action on the library’s expansion. Based on the data, the library made a motion to recommend a modified expansion to 74,236 sq. ft. which approximately doubles the size of the library allowing the library to offer new services, expand the collection and programming spaces to meet the needs of a growing community.

The expansion will also address space needs for the Friends of the Library Read Before Book Store and the Sun Prairie Media Center.

The Library Board will conduct a thorough assessment of possible branch libraries after the expansion of the main library is complete. Recommendations will include locations and service models to best serve Sun Prairie.

The cost figures showed a $26.132 million cost associated with expanding the library to 93,050 sq. ft.

However, the Sun Prairie Library Board’s modified cost estimate to expand the library to 74,236 sq. ft. would cost significantly less — $19.5 million. The modified plan also shows a lower cost to operate the facility — about $1.88 million, versus the $2.163 million required for the larger library plan.

The Sun Prairie Library Board sought the Committee of the Whole’s endorsement Tuesday to proceed with the next steps in the process. With an endorsement, the Library Board will be in a position to begin a fundraising feasibility study with a professional fundraising consultant.

The results of the fundraising feasibility study will provide the Library Board, City of Sun Prairie staff and the Sun Prairie City Council with the public funding necessary for an expansion. The Sun Prairie Library Foundation can share the public funding component with potential donors as an essential part of the Capital Campaign process.

Hetzler said the next steps in the process include the completion of the fundraising feasibility study, architectural renderings for the expansion as part of the 2020 budget, the beginning of the capital campaign in 2022 and construction in 2023, with completion expected 2024 — which would be the 25th anniversary of the current library.

Discussion

Mayor Paul Esser asked for the committee to discuss the options for expansion as part of the meeting.

Among those who spoke was District 1 Alder Steve Stocker’s granddaughter, Maddie Shea, who read her winning essay about why she loves the Sun Prairie Public Library (see video of the essay at sunprairiestar.com).

District 3 Alder Mike Jacobs asked about whether the library had considered using school libraries as branches — a concept supported by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Council of Libraries.

But Hetzler said she knows of only one place that does that — in Brown County. “What we’ve heard is that it’s not as easy as it sounds,” Hetzler said.

City Council President and District 2 Alder Bill Connors expressed some doubt about that idea. “I would be amazed if we could make that work,” Connors said, “because we can’t even use the schools for a couple of days for elections.”

Both District 4 alders Al Guyant and Mary Polenske pledged their support, but wondered aloud about the budgetary resources needed to complete the project when the city is faced with completing the Westside Community Service Building renovations, a fully staffed westside fire station, $50 million in street projects, and the possible relocation of the Sun Prairie Public Works Garage for as much as $30 million.

District 1 Alder Emily Lindsey said she asked Administrative Services Director Connie DeKemper to examine the possible tax impact associated with a library expansion, and she projected a $96 tax increase. “It’s really a big shot at the dart board right now,” Lindsey said, “because we don’t have the fundraising feasibility study.”

Hetzler said the council’s approval now gives the library board confidence moving forward to use funding to complete the fundraising feasibility study. Hetzler also said the city would need to provide $1.3 million as part of the 2020 budget to complete architectural and design drawings for the expanded library. While no money was allocated, alders unanimously approved the concept moving ahead to the fundraising feasibility study.

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