Fernandina Beach City Commission approves conceptual plan for library on 3 – 2 vote

Submitted by

Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter-News Analyst

Library supporters gather prior to Commission Meeting
Commission Chambers fill to capacity

By the time Mayor Sarah Pelican gaveled the February 5, 2013 regular meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission to order at 6:00 p.m., every seat and square foot of standing room had been occupied – and then some.  Most of the hundred plus audience members, who had been arriving steadily since 5:30 p.m., carried or wore around their necks bright green tote bags emblazoned with the logo of the Friends of the Library.  Citing concerns of the Fire Marshal, Mayor Pelican advised the audience that those attendees who were not seated would need to move to the hallway, where the audio portion of the meeting would be broadcast.  No one moved.  She then announced that one row of people would be allowed to stand along the back windows.  No one moved.  So she got on with the meeting, leaving the matter of dealing with the crowd to Fire Chief Jason Higginbotham.

DIGITAL CAMERAAfter ten minutes of routine business, the commission invited Steve Lazar of VRL Architects, Inc., to present for their consideration the conceptual plan for the expanded, rehabilitated Fernandina Beach Branch of the Nassau County Public Library.  This plan was developed over the past few months by a committee with representation from the City, the County and the Friends of the Library.  Lazar, assisted by architect Christine Hendricks, delivered a slide presentation that identified deficiencies of the current structure, renovation costs, a facility program for expansion, floor plans and an artist’s rendering of the enhanced facility.  The expansion would increase the area of the library to 16,000 square feet, or approximately 90% of the national norm for a similar size community.

Lazar presented a long list of exterior and interior deficiencies, ranging from issues compromising the building itself (water intrusion, spalled brick masonry, insulation) to health and safety matters (need for second emergency door, ADA compliance problems, open floor drain trap) to space-related service problems (cramped public service desk, lack of separation between children’s area and other areas, storage problems, poor staff work areas).

Lazar presented two options to correct current building problems without expanding theDIGITAL CAMERA facilities.  Option 1, costing about $250K, would include items such as new electrical and plumbing, repairing brickwork, painting and carpeting, and replacing roof flashing and drains.  Option 2 would add another $126K for new R-38 insulated roofing, new rooftop HVAC units and new exterior wall insulation.  For a total cost of approximately $377K, the current building would be stabilized, made safer and improved cosmetically.

Expanding the facility to the north to encompass area currently used for staff parking and book return would relieve overcrowding and overlapping functional areas by providing separate rooms or areas for children, technology, local history and young adults, in addition to consolidating staff functions into an area outside the general public space.  Another enhancement would be the addition of a meeting room capable of holding 60 people to be located at the current entrance area.  This area has been situated so that it might be used when the library itself is closed.

Significant discussion involved the roof problems.  According to Lazar, the horizontal portion of the roof is in good condition based upon engineering tests.  While he could not guarantee how long the roof would last, he reported that the problem with leaks related to the areas where the horizontal roof intersected with vertical walls.  By taking care of the drain and flashing problems, Lazar believed that the cost of roof replacement could be deferred to a future maintenance action.

Commission discussion

CorbettVice Mayor Charlie Corbett immediately zeroed in on the roof issue, asking, “Will you replace the roof in the old part [of the library]?  Will you insulate the old roof?  Will you redo the old windows?”  Lazar said he would not.  Corbett replied, “That don’t make sense to me.”  Corbett also complained that the plan dropped the project contingency reserve from 10 to 5 percent.  He complained that the library would have “more rooms than Downton Abbey” and that just moving book stacks out of the way could create space for meetings when necessary.  He claimed that movable stacks would save the need for more space and that “there are a lot of meeting rooms around the city.”  [County Librarian Dawn Bostwick reported that the library had had their previous meeting room scheduled 300 times during its last year of availability.]

Mayor Pelican said that she understood that the first budget for the project had come in at $1.9M.  She asked what had been cut to lower the cost to the current $1.6M.  Lazar replied that the first plan called for moving the HVAC system off the roof with associated costs for new ducting and an interior equipment mezzanine.  It also included a complete reroofing, total window replacement and custom millwork on the interior for a new circulation desk.  In response to a question he added that it would have probably produced a structure that would need no added work over the next 20 years, but that the plan was scaled back to save costs.  Pelican asked if he would consider cutting back on the additional square footage to take care of those problems.  He replied that he was looking at giving the project the biggest bang for the buck, which he believed the current plan does.

Corbett continued his criticism, telling Lazar that he was not happy that items cut included DIGITAL CAMERAthings that should be replaced now:  the roof and the windows.  For the first of several times, Lazar restated the roof problem.

Both Dawn Bostwick, county librarian, and Bill Flynn, president of the Friends of the Library, assisted Lazar in responding to questions.  Bostwick indicated that the window problems related to the seals and that the nature of the windows is such that when the seals break, they become cloudy or hazy and need occasional replacement as part of maintenance.  Flynn said that the Friends of the Library (FOL) are supporting the library “for the long haul.”  He implied that their financial support for future needs would be considered as needs arise.

Corbett appeared to look upon Flynn’s remark as an opening for further negotiation, asking, “Would the FOL pony up for windows and a roof?  If we’re gonna do it, let’s do it right the first time.”  This remark produced an audible reaction from the audience.  Flynn carefully explained that he would take this proposal to the FOL Board, but that he could not agree without Board support.  Flynn responded to questions about the FOL fundraising by reporting that while the organization has about $200K in cash, it has pledges for the full amount along with a line of credit that would allow the project to begin even if all the pledges had not been collected.  Flynn also acknowledged that other potential donors were sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see if the city and the county would honor their earlier commitments.  He stressed that positive commission action at this meeting would help in fundraising efforts.

City Manager Joe Gerrity interjected that even with commission approval, it would take on the order of 4 months to complete construction drawings and obtain all the required permits.

Commissioner Ed Boner expressed concerns regarding the longevity of the current roof and the potential savings on utilities from increasing total roof insulation.

Commissioner Pat Gass asked, “Have we ever been told by ‘The Boss’ [Nassau County] that the library needs more space?”  Librarian Bostwick pointed toward the working committee on the library that had been formed in 2010.  Committee members County Commissioner Danny Leeper and then-City Commissioner Jeffrey Bunch had concurred in a statement of the library’s needs.

Commissioner Arlene Filkoff reminded the commission that the city owns the library building.  She said that the city looked for opportunities to work cooperatively with Nassau County and the citizens, claiming, “we could not find a more passionate partner than the Friends of the Library.  They have enough passion to do what they need.”  She reminded commissioners that from a business perspective, they would be getting $1.6M of improvements for an investment of $600K.”  The audience greeted this comment with enthusiastic applause.

Corbett suggested that further consideration of the matter be tabled until the FOL Board could decide whether to pay for a total reroof and replacement windows.  This audience produced a loud, collective audience groan.

Mayor Pelican, stating that she had waited patiently while everyone else had their say, jumped into the discussion.  She indicated her displeasure that she had not been presented with three clear options.  She was not pleased that the present conceptual plan did not fix the problems initially cited by County Librarian Bostwick in a 2010 letter: a leaky roof and leaking windows.  Bill Flynn responded that FOL and the librarian relied on an assessment of the former city engineer regarding the need to replace the entire roof.  Now, another engineer has taken issue with that conclusion.  Steve Lazar added that the term “re-roofing” has been used too generally throughout study and meetings.  While there are definitely problems with leaks, the lightweight insulating concrete that covers the horizontal portion of the roof is not leaking.  The leaks are a result of poor flashing and roof drains.

Corbett jumped in once more, asking Lazar “What about lowering the ceiling?”  This produced yet another loud audience groan.

Considerable discussion, mainly involving Corbett and Boner, related to benefits to be obtained by increasing insulation on the existing roof.  Both men seemed to believe that it would be a good move to remove the roof membrane to provide additional insulation, even if the roof were still in good shape.

Filkoff turned to Gerrity, asking him to weigh in on the library.  Gerrity said that the current facility is not far from deplorable.  He said that the public library in Live Oak where he previously worked was larger and more modern and that it served as a hub for the community.  He said that Fernandina Beach needs to have something better than Live Oak, which serves a smaller community.

At 8:15 p.m., the Mayor called upon members of the community who wished to speak.  She asked that in the interest of time, individual speakers not be applauded.  Of the 16 who initially requested to speak, two had already left the meeting.  The remaining 12 all spoke in favor of approving the conceptual plan.  Scott Moore, president of the Historic Downtown Merchants Association, stated that “the library is a very important part of downtown, and the bottom line is that it only costs the city $600K.” He added that his entire organization supports the plan.  Phil Scanlan, an island resident, chastised the commission.  “I’m not respected if you go back to the Friends of the Library and tell them they have to come up with more money [for a complete new roof and replacement windows].  Make the decision tonight.  You can’t put all the risk on them.”  Joan Bean, local business owner, said, “Tonight can be the night you solve this problem.  Just ‘git ‘er done.’”  Other speakers expressing support for the project included:  Lorraine Bachman, Sandra Allen, Guy Petty, Margaret Howard, Vicky Maly, Robin Lentz, Marie Santry, Ann Showalter and Wilma Allen.  Pelican invited the audience to give all the speakers a round of applause, which they did.

At 8:45 p.m., the Commission finally turned to Resolution 2013-15, calling for approval of the library conceptual plan for renovation and expansion.  Filkoff moved approval and Boner seconded.  Corbett added an amendment removing the roof replacement from the action.  When the question was called, Corbett joined Filkoff and Boner in voting yes, while Gass and Pelican opposed the motion.

The commission turned its attention to the next and related item:  Resolution 2013-16, approving a tripartite agreement with the Board of Nassau County Commissioners and the Friends of the Library that would authorize the city to spend up to $600K for expansion and renovation of the library facility.  City Attorney Tammi Bach explained that this resolution should be viewed as a draft, or a covenant to budget, that would probably return for further review after the County Commission provided input and action.  Three members of the public asked to speak.   Andy Curtin asked if the $600K would come from the Forward Fernandina loan.  Manager Gerrity said that it would.  Curtin then expressed his opposition because of his opposition to the city’s borrowing money.  Robert Welles asked the commission to get it done.  Robin Lentz said that taking out a loan to make improvements was an investment.

Filkoff moved to approve the item and Boner seconded.  More discussion ensued with Corbett raising concerns about how the county would pay its share of the tab, since ad valorem taxes could not be used.  Gerrity indicated that the county had other revenue streams to tap, but Corbett was not sure that the county had anything other than ad valorem funds to spend.  Boner said that that issue was not a big deal because the city’s vote is conditional on all the pieces coming together with the county and the FOL.  Gass declared that she would not vote to approve this measure because she was “representing the 99% of the folks not here tonight.”  She expressed her opposition to borrowing money.  When the vote was taken, only Gass opposed this resolution, which will now be forwarded to the County Commission for further action.

Discussion and action on the library items concluded around 9:00 p.m.  Most of the audience left at that time.  When the commission meeting concluded about a half hour later, commissioners thanked library supporters for their passion and commitment, as well as their patience.  Mayor Pelican reminded the audience that this had been the first time commissioners had been able to discuss the matter, so their questions and comments took considerable time.

February 6, 2013 5:15 p.m.