By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Members of the Colfax Public Library Board, Lisa Ludwig (library director), and John Thompson (director of the Indianhead Federated Library System) all agree.
“Something” must be done to address space needs, the difficulty of handicapped accessibility and the problem of violating the state’s Open Meeting Law concerning the Colfax Public Library and the Colfax Municipal Building.
Members of the Colfax Public Library Board discussed what their next steps should be at their regular monthly meeting May 13.
The “something” might be expanding the existing library space or building a new library at another location.
Thompson attended the meeting in an advisory capacity.
As a result of the advisory referendum and surveys in April, a group of people want the library to stay in existing location, Thompson noted.
But staying in the existing location and doing nothing exposes the village and the Colfax Public Library to liability, Thompson said.
The Colfax Library Board must formulate a plan for services for handicapped people who cannot get into the library, he said.
Library programs will have to be moved out of the municipal building and be held in places that are accessible for those with disabilities, Thompson said.
The problem with moving programs out of the library to another location is that people are now away from the library and the services provided by the library, Ludwig noted.
The Colfax Public Library Board also will have to hold their meetings in a place that is accessible to all people and that can reasonably accommodate people who want to attend the meetings, Thompson said.
The state’s Open Meetings law requires reasonable accommodation for those people who want to attend the meetings, he said.
If the accommodations are not reasonable and accessible, then the meeting is not considered to be open, Thompson said.
When the Colfax Library Board meets in the library, board members are seated wherever they can find a place to sit. Members of the public who want to attend the meeting must sit at the computer stations or perch on stools.
It is difficult to see who is speaking or to know who is actually a member of the library board or who is there as a member of the public.
The Colfax Village Board also faces a problem with the Open Meetings law, Thompson said.
The Colfax Village Board meets in the clerk’s office. The municipal building poses challenges for those with physical disabilities, and the place where the village board meets also would pose challenges and would perhaps be inaccessible to someone with physical disabilities, particularly for someone in a wheelchair.
But even for someone without a physical disability, the Colfax Village Board’s meeting space provides little room for an audience. People attending the meeting must squeeze in on chairs wherever a chair can be placed and are often seated within a foot or two of the village board.
The meeting space has room for about six chairs.
If people attending the meeting cannot sit down, are crowded so that it is difficult for anyone to enter or exit the room, or if people must wait out in the hallway, then it is not really an open meeting, Thompson said.
For a public meeting to be considered open, there must be a reasonable expectation that those who want to attend can be accommodated, he said.
If, for example, people were forced to wait out in the hallway because of space constraints, it would be difficult to hear the village board proceedings, and then it could be argued that the meeting was not an open meeting.
Because the Colfax Public Library is a public service, the Colfax Public Library Board has no choice but to figure out a way to make library services and programs accessible to everyone, Thompson said.
Expanding the Colfax Public Library’s space so there is adequate room for programming and to provide handicapped accessibility could involve building onto the library, he said.
The only space available to build onto the library is to the south.
In that case, “Tower Park would go away,” Thompson said.
Another option would be to build a stand-alone library, he said.
Any building project, whether it is expansion or a new library, would require an overwhelming consensus from the community to move the project forward, Thompson said.
Ludwig said she had attended the village board meeting following the April 7 referendum, but the village board did not take any action to continue discussions with the library board concerning what to do about the library.
Even though the majority of the people who voted in the referendum and who filled out surveys indicated they wanted to do “something,” the village board did not seem willing to continue any kind of discussion, she said.
Ludwig noted that she had told the village board that the library board and village board could continue discussing the issue and it would not cost any money.
Mark Halpin, village trustee and the village board’s representative on the library board, agreed that the majority of the people wanted to “see something” being done.
“The same topic was discussed 15 years ago,” he said.
With no discussion between the library board and the village board, and no movement to take advantage of the gift of land offered by Dairy State Bank, the library “is back at square one,” Ludwig said.
In January of this year, the Colfax Village Board — with the approval of the Colfax Public Library Board — selected Ayres Associates as the architects for building a new library or a new multi-purpose building and accepted the proposal from Ayres for Phase I.
According to the proposal from Ayres Associates, Phase I would provide a project report that would include preliminary cost estimates, operational cost estimates, a brief analysis of each facility option (such as stand alone library; multi-purpose building; one story and two story); and other observations.
The cost for Phase I is $1,800.
Ayres planned to present the Phase I report to the Colfax Public Library Board and the Colfax Village Board and to also attend a community town hall meeting to present the report and answer questions so that community members would have information available to them when they voted in the advisory referendum in April.
The Colfax Village Board held a town hall meeting in February about the library but did not follow through with Ayres on conducting Phase I, so there was no report available for the village board, library board or those attending the meeting.
The next step for the library board is to narrow down what board members want to see in the library for services, Thompson said.
Although there is a concern about cost, “you cannot determine cost until you know what you want to do,” Thompson said.
A conceptual drawing of what the library board would like to do — either expansion or renovation or building a new library — would raise interest in the community, Ludwig said.
With no information available to village residents from an Ayres Phase I report, village referendum results revealed that 40 people voted for a new stand-alone library (23 percent); 32 people voted for a multi-functional building to house the library, village administration and police department (18 percent); 41 people voted to renovate the municipal building basement (23 percent); and 63 people voted to keep the library, administration and police department where they are now (36 percent).
The results of the advisory referendum were that 64 percent voted to do something and 36 percent voted to do nothing.
But the advisory referendum for village residents represents only part of the equation.
The Colfax Public Library has a service population of about 3,000. The village has a population of 1,158.
Because the service population of the library is about three times the population of the village, Dunn County provides 60 percent of the funding for the Colfax library to account for those people living in the surrounding townships who use the library.
No advisory referendum questions were on the ballot for the surrounding townships, so no official vote was taken on what the residents in the service population area thought about the issue of a new library or keeping the library where it is now.
Surveys were distributed, however, during the town hall meeting in February and were available at the library.
A total of 33 surveys were completed at the library, and out of that total, 97 percent said “do something” — build a new library; build a multifunctional building; renovate the building.
A total of 73 percent of the respondents voted for a new stand-alone library, while 16 percent voted for a multifunctional building; 8 percent voted for renovating the building, and only 3 percent voted for keeping the current functions where they are now in the municipal building.