Washington Co. Free Library expansion budget grows

Callaham says additional funding will come from donors; Aleshire expresses concerns

Callaham says additional funding will come from donors; Aleshire expresses concerns

December 08, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The budget for the downtown library expansion is growing, but the additional funding will come from donations, not taxpayers, Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees President Art Callaham said Tuesday.

With a $1 million gift from an undisclosed donor and at least $1 million expected from an upcoming fundraising campaign, library officials anticipate almost $24 million in funding for the project, Callaham told the Washington County Commissioners.

The project, listed at $21.3 million in the county's Capital Improvement Plan, involves renovating the downtown Hagerstown library, adding an expansion that will more than double its size. The CIP did not include a $1.5 contribution from the City of Hagerstown, which increased the budget to $22.8 million.

Callaham's comments came after Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire read a prepared statement earlier in Tuesday's meeting expressing concerns about the project's increasing budget, parking plans and what he sees as a lack of public information about the project.


Aleshire said he was confused about the cost of the project, which had increased from an initial budget estimate of $14.5 million in 2006. He said he heard varying figures for contributions from the State of Maryland and Washington County.

Callaham said the state's $11.3 million contribution and the county's contributions of about $6 million for construction and about $1 million for engineering and design have not changed from those approved by the commissioners in the county's latest CIP.

"If this project, in direct construction cost and design costs, totals more than the amounts I have described to you in this presentation, the Board of Trustees will not come back to county taxpayers for any additional funding above the amount of $7 million that you have pledged for this project," Callaham said. "We will find other funding sources or we will downsize the project."

Aleshire also reiterated his concern that the expansion plans assume the acquisition of an East Baltimore Street property owned by the nonprofit Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc., which would be used for parking.

"I find it odd that we've already laid out plans predicated on this purchase, and none of the funding parties had prior knowledge of it or currently own it," Aleshire said.

In addition, Aleshire said he disapproved of using surface parking downtown.

"I can think of few, if any, urban centers that hinge the success of their downtown redevelopment on surface parking lots that eat up large sections of city block," he said.

Callaham said county staff was negotiating for the remaining parcel needed for parking.

"Let there be no doubt in this room that, in the mind of the owners or the county staff, that these parcels are at risk in any way of being secured," he said.

Finally, Aleshire said he had trouble getting information about the project and criticized project leaders for a lack of transparency. He said the library's two presentations to the commissioners about the project were held in closed sessions, a joint city-county meeting on the project scheduled for August was canceled without explanation, and library officials were limited to less than five minutes for a presentation about the project at a joint meeting last month.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he didn't think transparency was an issue.

"If you want to spin this as something done behind the public's back, I don't know how you get that," Kercheval told Aleshire. "If you don't know everything that's going on, that's something that certainly happens if you are not involved in what's happening every day, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5."

Callaham said that over the past three years, the library had discussed the project in numerous focus groups and in assorted meetings with the commissioners, the city council, the delegation and the Maryland Board of Public Works.

Funding sources for library renovation and expansion

Anticipated funding sources for library renovation and expansion project:

$11.3 million, State of Maryland

$7.04 million, Washington County

$1.5 million, City of Hagerstown

$2 million, library endowment fund

$1 million, fundraising campaign (anticipated)

$1 million, gift (anticipated)

Total: $23.84 million

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