Library on life support

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That sentiment pretty much sums up the situation surrounding the Minneapolis Public Library project.

Nearly 70 percent of Minneapolis voters approved the $122.5 million library referendum in 2000. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed $80 million cut to the city’s budget and a failure by planners to anticipate rising costs could mean the cancellation of the Minneapolis Public Library project. In the coming weeks, City Council members and the Minneapolis community will be forced to weigh their options: Find funds in scarce times to undertake the project or be continually bled by maintenance fees for a substandard interim solution.

Pity library director Kit Hadley who was hit with news of the shortfall last Tuesday, her second day on the job. With the City Council facing a vote on the bonds and rising operation costs still to be determined, proponents of the library project are scrambling. Confined by state levy limits, money originally destined for the library project could be rerouted for necessary police and fire services. On top of this, preventative terrorism measures are continually being mandated by the federal government without provision. Alternative options such as selling the land or establishing an endowment remain on the table. Meanwhile, with books crammed into a temporary facility in the former Federal Reserve building, each additional month of delay in construction costs the city $150,000. The library project’s cancellation would prove extremely prohibitive of future referendums and leave Minneapolis residents crying “bait and switch.”

The Minneapolis Public Library folly is another example of the “blue skies” fiscal attitude of the late 1990s. Naively assuming the economy would continue to churn out profits and revenues for all concerned, the city of Minneapolis is caught with its pants, and its library, down. Storm clouds are a-brewin’ while the old library lies in ruin, an empty crater brought on by the weights of regressive development. However, the city should avoid making the same short-minded mistake that placed it in this mess in the first place. The economy, a cyclical beast, will come back. The city should not let current “doom and gloom” budgets dictate long-term investments. It should build the library now, save itself money in the long term and pay it off when good times arrive again.