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Columbus voters to decide on City Hall, library project in November
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Columbus voters to decide on City Hall, library project in November

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In the upcoming November election, voters will have the chance to decide on what officials believe to be a great opportunity for Columbus area residents.

A ballot item will ask voters to authorize bonds for a project that includes tearing down City Hall and the Columbus Public Library, 2504 14th St. (The funding for this is already secured by a half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2016).

In those lots, a larger structure would be built that includes the library, children’s museum, art gallery, community room and City Hall. The City Hall portion of the project would be paid for by existing funds and revenue.

“I want people to really understand the benefit of what they’re getting,” Columbus Public Library Director Karen Connell said. “In the long run, this is going to be a huge savings, to combine all of these entities into one structure. Putting it downtown, continue to bring people into the downtown for different activities. This also creates additional parking downtown as well, which benefits everyone.”

The first floor would include having a limited section of the library, such as 20-minute computer usage for quick tasks like printing out a plane ticket or school assignment. Patrons would be able to pick up library materials they’ve placed on hold and return books.

Notably, though, that floor would feature a coffee shop (to be leased by any business interested) and a community room that would also have the art gallery. A section of that space would be open for public meetings, such as the Columbus City Council, Connell noted.

“We have a variety of groups that meet here, like the Girl Scouts and Columbus Women’s Club. This would be a room they would reserve to have those meetings and events,” she said.

The second floor would be all library material, space and services.

(It would have) most of the adult collection, more quiet reading areas where two or three people can gather, additional (larger) reading rooms,” Connell said. “We would also have our local history and heritage room; that’s where we would have a lot of our local history reading material that can’t be checked out because it’s the only copy.”

The young adult and children’s collections would be housed on the second floor as well, and each area would have room for activities and smaller programs.

“(There) would (also) be an activity room with laminate flooring, floor drains, a sink, cupboards – this is where messy art projects would happen. The Arts Council would be able to use that as well when they have their art classes,” Connell said.

A makerspace, which is an area in that library patrons can utilize technology such as vinyl printing, 3D printing and other equipment to create to their hearts’ content.

City Hall would take up the third floor, though the specifics haven’t been ironed out yet.

“It wasn’t necessary to spend the money upfront for that,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t wasting taxpayers’ dollars. If the bond doesn’t pass, then there’s no sense on spending money for configurations when that money could be used to fund other solutions.”

The lot that City Hall currently sits on would be made into a parking area.

According to figures made available at buildingtogethercolumbus.org, total project costs are estimated at $31,910,000.

According to the website, “If voters approve the issuance of bonds for the Library/Art Gallery/Children’s Museum project, the City will also issue bonds for the City Hall portion of the project and use existing general fund revenue to pay off the bonds.”

The Columbus City Council approved at its Aug. 17 meeting a resolution calling for an election to issue bonds for the library’s project not to exceed $10 million; this is the amount that will be funded by the half-cent sales tax.

“We’re using the revenue from that half-cent to pay off the fire and police stations and we’ll also use what we have in the bank and future revenues to pay off this bond,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said at the Aug. 17 meeting. “All we’re asking for is for permission to issue bonds to build (the) project. We are not asking for more tax revenue. We’re just asking if we can issue bonds to use the revenue we already have to pay off bonds.”

Connell noted that when voters approved the half-cent sales tax in 2016, language specified that the monies could only be used for the library and new buildings for the Columbus Police and Fire departments, which the two latter opened in the last year.

“They voted in 2016 to use (the sales tax) for police, fire and library projects. So it can’t be used for anything but this,” Connell said. “The way that sales tax question was written on the ballot, it stated that we would come back to the community when those projects were ready – basically get their authorization to get those bonds that are paid for with that existing tax.”

In the next couple of months, an educational campaign will be underway to provide accurate information on the project. If passed, designs would be finalized with demolition/construction potentially beginning in August and continuing through July 2023. An anticipated opening date is set for spring 2023 if things go well.

The Columbus Area Library would still provide its services throughout the construction process by operating out of a temporary space.

“We’re not just providing access to print books with this project,” Connell said. “We’re providing access to community gatherings, areas for collaboration (and for) people to learn and explore things that they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.”

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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