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Library move: opportunity or mistake?

The former Nuclear Management Co. building at the corner of First and Vine streets glows under a full moon. Voters will decide in the Nov. 4 election whether to move the Hudson Area Joint Library into the building. Photo by Joe Winter

Moving the Hudson Area Joint Library into a former corporate headquarters on First Street is either a rare good deal or an expensive mistake, depending upon whom you talk to.

"We think this represents such a terrific opportunity for the whole community that I am optimistic," Library Board President Jim O'Connor said when asked a couple of weeks ago if he thought voters would approve the move.

Marion Shaw, who represents the town of Hudson on the Library Board, has a completely different opinion of the proposal.

"They want the Taj Mahal, and we don't need the Taj Mahal," Shaw said in a phone call last Friday.

It will be up to the voters to decide which of the men is correct when they go to the polls Nov. 4.

The proposed move hinges on how residents of the four municipalities that are partners in the library answer two referendum questions.

The first will ask for permission to issue bonds to pay for acquiring, renovating and equipping a new library to be located in the former Nuclear Management Co. building at the corner of First and Vine streets in Hudson.

The city of Hudson and town of Hudson are each asking to borrow $1.5 million to cover their shares of the project costs. The town of St. Joseph is asking its voters if it should borrow $740,000, and the village of North Hudson, $675,676.

The second question on each municipality's ballot will be whether it should exceed the state tax levy limit on an ongoing basis in order to pay the operational costs of the new facility.

It would take $1,150,000 a year in tax dollars to operate the new library, compared to the $609,663 used to operate the existing library in 2008.

The city of Hudson is asking for $244,000 more annually in property taxes to cover its share (43.3%) of the debt and operational costs of the new library.

Town of Hudson residents will be asked if they support a $148,173 increase in their tax levy. The proposed annual levy increases in the town of Joseph and village of North Hudson are $62,825 and $85,379, respectively.

If approved, the measure would boost property taxes by $23.23 per $100,000 of assessed value in the city, $28.74 in the town of Hudson, $25.31 in the town of St. Joseph and $38.06 in the village of North Hudson.

For that money, area residents would get a public library with three and a half times the floor space of the existing library. And it would be located in a well-lit, architecturally unique building overlooking Lakefront Park and the St. Croix River.

The genesis

According to Bye Barsness, who has spearheaded the effort to relocate the library, the idea was Susie Gilbert's, a fellow member of the Hudson Area Library Foundation.

Barsness said that Gilbert noticed the for sale sign go up at the NMC building last winter and told other foundation members that it would make a great library.

The foundation had been attempting to get St. Croix County to part with some land at the intersection of Carmichael Road and Vine Street, but wasn't making any progress.

Barsness, a former St. Paul business executive and St. Joseph Town Board member, took up the cause when he returned from his winter home in Arizona. He and Gilbert convinced the foundation to pay for an engineering study to determine the feasibility of moving the library into the building.

When it was determined that the move was possible, the firm provided an estimate of the cost of buying, renovating and equipping the building.

The original estimate of the project cost was $9.5 million, but the top elected officials in each of the partner municipalities later bumped it up to $10.5 million to be on the safe side.

In an advisory referendum last April, voters in the partner municipalities told their elected representative they wanted to pursue the move. The approval margins were 1,523 to 512 in the city of Hudson, 751 to 353 in the town of Hudson, 482 to 170 in the village of North Hudson and 397 to 312 in the town of St. Joseph.

Arguments for

"You couldn't have designed an interior that is more library-like than this," Barsness said of the NMC building. "It's a special building. It is a building that has some real architectural character."

He also argued that moving to the NMC building would be less expensive than constructing a new library, and that no place would provide a better location for a library.

Putting the library next to The Phipps Center for the Arts and Lakefront Park would create a cultural district for the city, he said.

"It's not in the center of the expanding population area, but it is an area that is very special for the community," Barsness said.

O'Connor, the library board chairman, said the existing library in the Hudson Municipal Building, 911 Fourth St., is vastly undersized for the communities it serves.

The state average is 0.86 square feet of library space per person served, O'Connor said, and Hudson's library has 0.26 square feet of floor space per person served.

Arguments against

Library board member Shaw is unhappy that the proposal to move the library is on the ballot.

"We had boards that voted to put something on the ballot that wasn't even decided yet -- like the budget," Shaw said. "You could say this thing was done wrong from the start."

He believes the Hudson Area Joint Library Board has prompted approval of the move, and that it isn't supposed to under its bylaws.

"I don't have this extra money to give," Shaw said. "Why do these people feel the need to dig into everybody's pockets because they want a library? Have them go build one. But no, it's we need one, and then they make other people pay for it."

North Hudson Village Board member George Klein and Hudson City Council member Lori Bernard also expressed reservations regarding the proposed move.

Both said they were happy the voters would have a chance to decide the issue, but that there are some things they should consider before going to the polls.

"Figure out what it will cost you per year," Klein said. "You have to answer the question, Do you feel you could get a hundred or a hundred and fifty or two hundred dollars worth of use out of the library in a given year? If the answer is yes, then by all means support it."

Klein said he also questions whether the NMC building is the right building, at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.

Bernard said taxpayers should keep in mind that voting to spend more for library service will leave less money for other things.

"It's not happening in a vacuum," she said. "It's competing directly with other services that the city really has an obligation to residents to provide."

If voters' priorities are more police officers and a new public safety building, they might think twice about voting for the library move, Bernard said.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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