By Adam Strunk
NEWTON—The Newton City Commission will pay $880,000 on the design process for a new public library.
The move occurred during a special meeting where the city received updates from the architectural firm working on the project as well as the fundraising committee.
“If you’re worried about the library being built once the public campaign opens up, open up your wallets,” Mayor Richard Stinnett said following the 4-1 vote.
In 2019, the city committed to spending $4.5 million on the future project. The library board committed $1.3 million to the project over 20 years. To reach the estimated $8.5 million cost of the library, advocates committed to raising $2.7 million in private funds.
A year and five months later, the fundraising campaign reported generating $1.45 million in private written commitments. Under the current schedule, the group would have a little under a year to raise the remaining $1.25 million in funding.
“You’re actually a little ahead of schedule,” said Robert Swanson of Swanson House Fundraising. The company is overseeing the fundraising campaign. “By this time next year, we expect the goal to be reached.”
Swanson said that once actual more concrete plans are made, more donors were expected to come forward for the project.
“We do have some significant funders yet to be approached in this, and they do tend to ask more specific questions in this process,” Swanson said. “Once they know we are moving forward in the project, we will have additional people that will come to us and move forward in the fundraising. ”
The current fundraising commitments drew questions from commissioners.
“What’s your experience with people making pledges and them actually writing checks for pledged amounts?” Commissioner Rod Kreie asked.
“Extremely high, with less than a 1 percent attrition rate,” Swanson responded.
Commissioner Kathy Valentine asked how much of the $1.45 million was committed or actually in the bank.
Swanson said that he didn’t have the breakdown on the numbers. He said commitments were written pledges and that the group had a sizable amount of cash on hand.
Commissioner Leroy Koehn asked if the group ever had issues with similar fundraising projects falling short.
“Have you had a library project structured similarly that has been abandoned or stopped because funds weren’t raised and the city was left holding the bag,” he asked.
Peter Bolek, president of HBM Architects, which will handle the library design process, said in his 45 years of working on library projects, that scenario hadn’t happened.
Bolek referenced a $32 million library project the company worked on in Charleston, W.V., where the city committed $10 million and the public raised more than the difference needed to build the library.
“The project is continuing to be embellished with additional funding,” Bolek said. “We’ve never had one abandoned with the inability to complete it.”
Valentine asked about the flexibility of plan designs.
“Let’s say you get down the road three months from the end and you know what you have,” Valentine asked. “Is that when you start having to make more final decisions?”
Bolek explained that designs could be changed and adjusted to use the amount of funding available, whether that was more or less than expected.
“We’d be able to increase the project, or we would pull back on some things,” Bolek said. “We can design add or deduct alternates to the contract.”
Koehn asked if with the increasing cost of construction and labor if the library might have to be downsized to meet the estimated 2019 cost of $8.5 million.
Bolek told Koehn that material use would be evaluated first to lower costs and there were ways of doing that. The project, when it would go out to bid, would also have alternate bids to get the city a better idea of what it could afford on the project.
City Engineer Suzanne Loomis said the city regularly works with bids and alternate bids to evaluate what it would be able to afford on a project.
One such example was a fourth slide the city was able to add on to the new pool when costs came in lower than a city estimate.
Commissioner Clint McBroom said he supported moving forward with the library. He said, however, he wasn’t comfortable moving forward with the amount of private funds raised so far.
“I’m not saying no today I’m 100 percent on board with the library,” he said. “Can we revisit this when we have more dollars committed to the project?”
McBroom explained he wanted a new library for Newton to have everything a modern library needs and was worried about possible increased costs or fundraising falling short that would put the city in a position of cutting out those needs.
“I don’t want to get to the point where we’re not incorporating those things on a cost saving measure,” he said.
Mayor Rich Stinnett advocated that the commission move forward with approving the design process at the meeting.
“It’s important to develop the plan and work that plan,” he said. “We can get often into analysis paralysis where we play the ‘what-if’ game. The big ‘what if’ is if our community answers the call and funds to the level of more or what it needs to or beyond. What I don’t think we can afford to do is table it and see what donations come in.”
He said that if the commission pushed back moving forward on the library to a future date, it was possible current commitments to funding could get rescinded.
Following discussion, Valentine moved for a vote on the idea, and Koehn seconded the motion. He said he had similar concerns as McBroom, but he also believed funds would be delivered.
“I trust that process,” Koehn said in favor of moving forward. “And we have a way to pay for it. We’re not going to be scrambling to make our bond payments.”
The vote passed 4-1, with McBroom voting against.
“I hope that everyone in the room can come back to tell me I was wrong,” McBroom said. “I just want you to understand that.”