Setting record straight on Lewes library project

May 1, 2014

During the April 25 candidates’ forum in Lewes, incumbent Bonnie Osler made a succinct but, unfortunately, erroneous statement about the Lewes Public Library building project. She said the City of Lewes gave $1 million to the library for land, which, she said, represents 10 percent of the total project cost. She added that the library has asked for an additional $1 million from the city to support construction, which, she said, would make the city’s contribution 20 percent of the $10.5 million project cost. Finally she noted, accurately, that the library has also asked the city to consider an annual contribution of $35,000 for utilities and maintenance.

First, the City of Lewes did not give $1 million to the library for land. The city, repeating a model that has brought many wonderful projects to fruition in our community, entered into a partnership with Lewes Public Library, Lewes Board of Public Works, Greater Lewes Foundation, Delaware’s Division of Libraries, Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and a private individual to finance the $2.5 million purchase of about 5.75 acres of land adjacent to Stango Park. The vision for use of that land includes 3.5 acres for a new and larger public library, 1.5 acres for rest rooms and parking for the emerging system of local biking and walking trails, and .75 acres of additional open space for Stango Park.

The Mayor and Council of Lewes, including Osler, voted unanimously to facilitate the purchase and to contribute the proceeds of the sale of three lots on Burton Avenue - which ultimately brought about $960,000 - toward the purchase. These funds will help cover the cost of the 2.25 acres to be used for additional parkland and the trailhead, not the land for the library.

A key to the purchase transaction included a good-faith pledge by Lewes Public Library to contribute $1.24 million for the portion of the land to be used for the new library. The library immediately put up $300,000 as part of the purchase and is well on its way, with its partnership with Delaware’s Division of Libraries, to meeting the remainder of its obligation.

Through this constructive partnership, the City of Lewes leveraged the purchase of 5.75 acres in the middle of the community for public use, worth $2.5 million, with the sale of three building lots worth, after associated expenses, $960,000. The city, not the library, now owns the entire 5.75-acre parcel.

The city’s willingness to enter the transaction was unquestionably critical to making a good deal come together, but clearly the library is footing the bill for its portion of the land.

Second, the library has indeed asked the city to consider a $1 million contribution to the library construction project. In the early 1980s, the City of Lewes sold three lots on Lewes Beach to purchase Stango Park and construct, with significant private funding, the first freestanding public library in Lewes. That creative approach involved no increase in taxes and essentially constituted the swap of one public asset for what has become an even more valuable asset. Lewes Public Library is now requesting that Lewes consider a similar approach with other vacant property it owns. The result, again, would be swapping one valuable public asset - two or three building lots - for an even more valuable asset - a new and enlarged public library to serve a growing community, with no increase in taxes. If the City of Lewes ultimately decides that such an investment makes sense, it would at that point become a slightly less than 10 percent investor in the library project. Many towns would love to say they took a $1 million investment and received a $10.5 million asset in return, with no increase in taxes.

Finally, Lewes Public Library has asked that the City of Lewes consider a $35,000 annual contribution to the library to help offset the cost of utilities and maintenance for the new building. That is actually less than the city is currently contributing annually for utilities and maintenance. The current contribution is most appreciated and keeps the City of Lewes as a valued partner with other state, county and private partners who sustain Lewes Public Library and its annual budget of just under $500,000. This is also a great deal for Lewes and its citizens.

Lewes Public Library, a free library, has been an important public institution, adding immeasurably to the diversity and quality of life of our community for almost 100 years. The library appreciates the community’s informed and enthusiastic support and looks forward to its next century of free service for all.

Dennis Forney
Lewes Public Library building campaign

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