When downtown Dayton’s main library branch opens to the public Aug. 5, the sparkling $64 million building will represent the centerpiece of a nearly $200 million voter-approved initiative to renovate libraries across the region.
The main branch is opening nearly nine months behind its original schedule and fell behind minority contracting goals, but library officials say it’s on budget and has provided lessons they can use to surpass goals going forward.
“We were always looking at the main library with the most anxiety because of it being the largest project and that it could have an impact on remaining projects,” said Dayton Metro Library President Tim Kambitsch.
“I’m more confident now than I ever have been about us being able to complete these projects within the budget the voters granted us.”
Opening the downtown branch puts the larger, 18-library project past the halfway point. Overhauls of the West Carrollton branch, Southeast branch and Wilmington-Stroop branch are scheduled to start this year and finish in 2018. The Burkhardt and Northmont branches, as well as those in west Dayton, Trotwood and Huber Heights are scheduled for completion in 2019.
All of them are being redesigned with the same functionality as the main branch.
When the last ribbon is cut, library officials expect the entire effort to come in around $196 million, according to budget documents. The library system has spent or committed $119.3 million with eight more libraries to go.
In 2012, voters approved a $187 million bond issue to pay for library renovations. The rest of the cost is for property purchases and site preparation and is being covered by the library’s $11 million building repair fund, Kambitsch said.
The downtown library is the flagship of this effort.
For $64 million, taxpayers are getting a 220,000-square foot building with a 299-seat auditorium, nearly 200 computers, a café, an audio/video lab, meeting rooms, a children’s activity area, underground parking garage, and hundreds of thousands of books.
The building frames an open-air atrium hung with a sculpture by local artist Terry Welker inspired by Claude Monet’s Waterlilies painting at the Dayton Art Institute. New art at all the libraries is being commissioned based on works at DAI and paid for with funds donated through a $1.3 million anonymous bequest.
An Operations Center housed in a different building that the library purchased from Hauer Music in 2013 has served as a temporary downtown library during the construction. It will continue to serve as a distribution center for materials shared among branches, as well as staff and computer server space.
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Kambitsch said the library is considering uses for the first floor of the of the Operations Center. One option that has been discussed is a “makerspace,” where people can have access to tools like 3D printers and machines for hands-on projects. Or it can be leased out if it’s not needed.
The library is also still considering uses for the Gentile Building, currently used for storage, which could be sold or used for book mobiles.
Purchasing the Hauer and Gentile buildings — and buying and razing the Webster Station bar to make room for a sculpture and pocket park — were not part of the original plans. The library spent $1.1 million on the properties and $7.9 million renovating them.
Even with that additional outlay, however, the downtown project cost is coming in under the original $87 million estimate, Kambitsch said.
‘A very valuable asset’
Area residents interviewed outside the library are eyeing its opening with excitement and curiosity.
Bill Williams, who was waiting for a bus at the RTA stop, believes it’s $64 million well spent.
“The kids need more things to do than running the streets and the library is a place they can get on the computer and they can look up information,” he said.
Pat Daugherty, manager of the AAA Tire & Auto Service across the street from the library, said he is hoping for increased business when the library opens. As to the cost, he is withholding judgment.
“I don’t know whether it’s well spent because I don’t know the details of what we have in there,” he said.
John Thomas, who was walking along Cooper Park behind the library, said he lives in Beavercreek but works downtown and looks forward to using the library on his lunch break.
“It’s just going to be a very valuable public asset,” he said.
As Kambitsch spoke, a worker on a cherry picker hammered outside the window of the third floor conference room next to his office.
He said all the work will be completed by the Aug. 5 grand opening, which will feature a street festival and live entertainment. The library will begin regular hours the next day.
“It will be the grandest grand opening for downtown Dayton since the opening of the Schuster Center,” Kambitsch said.
The building was originally scheduled to open in October 2016.
There were several reasons for the delay, Kambitsch said, including flooding issues that had to be addressed when footers were dug for the two-story underground garage.
“I think the biggest thing that has slowed us down has been competition for construction workers,” he said. “It’s all the trades out there that are seeing so much business out there and trying to find skilled trades.”
The library also was in competition for workers with the new buildings at Dayton Children’s Hospital and Sinclair Community College, Kambitsch said.
Minority goals missed
Another missed goal in construction of the main library and other early branches was inclusion of minority-owned and Montgomery County-based businesses.
The Dayton Metro Library set out to contract when possible with minority owned businesses for 17 percent of the work. It also aimed for 5 percent women-owned businesses, 60 percent Montgomery County businesses and 70 percent Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce businesses.
They met some of these goals: 12.2 percent of contracts were awarded to women-owned businesses, and 82.6 percent of businesses that were chamber members.
But only 9.7 percent of the work went to minority-owned businesses and 55 percent went to Montgomery County businesses.
Kambitsch said library officials tried to break the contracts down so smaller, local and minority-owned businesses would be able to compete for them. But public contracting rules required them to go with the lowest responsive bidder, which still tended to be the larger firms, he said.
Goals were met for the five libraries in the much-smaller second part of the project, Kambitsch said, after changes were made requiring on subcontracting rules.
“I’m proud to show those numbers,” Kambitsch said.
So far, the project has awarded $8.9 million to minority-owned businesses and $45.9 million to Montgomery County businesses.
Books and ‘a gathering place’
Because it has four times the public space as the old library, the new building will be able to put all 200,000 of its circulation books and other media on the shelves whereas previously much of it was stored. This means more books to browse.
All of the books are RFID tagged so they can be quickly checked out. Automating these back office functions will allow the library to put more people on the floor to help customers, Kambitsch said.
But books are only part of the modern library’s mission. The new building is riddled with outlets for people to plug in phones and laptops. There are 135 public computers with internet access and 33 computers for specific uses such as searching library databases and children educational programs, 13 group study or conference rooms — many with large screens to for computer presentations — community rooms, children’s program room and multi-use “opportunity spaces.”
Coffee and snacks will be contracted out to Table 33. The underground parking will likely offer some free parking time and then charge — probably after two hours.
Kambitsch said modern libraries are places not just for reading, but for community collaboration.
“People are looking at this like a new gathering place, not just for an individual but for people to come together to do things,” he said.
Part of statewide boom
Doug Evans, executive director of the Ohio Library Council, said Dayton’s library project fits into a statewide library building boom.
“It has been going on in almost every area of the state,” he said.
He said part of the reason is that Ohio’s libraries are getting old and need work, but also the purpose of libraries is changing.
“I think you will find a lot of communities, particularly in smaller communities but even in metro areas, the library main location or branches are literally an epicenter of activity in that community,” he said.
The Dayton Metro Library last passed an operating levy in 2009 and has an operating budget of around $30 million. Kambitsch said the library may need to revisit that at some point, but there are currently no plans to go back to the voters.
Libraries across the state have moved from state to local funding, Evans said.
“The local communities have been supportive for the most part when asked, on the ballot issues, they have been supportive of the public libraries because they know of the level of service libraries provide,” he said.