UPPER DUBLIN — March 12 will be Judgement Day for the proposed library relocation project at 520 Virginia Drive.
That night, the board of commissioners, at its scheduled stated meeting, will decide whether to move forward officially with the project. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the township building on Loch Alsh Avenue. The public will have an opportunity to make comments, official said.
The board’s vote caps more than a year of research on the potential repurposing of the building in the Fort Washington Office Park. Formerly a pharmaceutical research laboratory and corporate office, the building was purchased by the township in late 2017 at a cost of $5.8 million.
Officials have said the current township library on Loch Alsh Avenue, which was built in the 1980s, is no longer adequate in size to meet the growing public demands being placed on it. The building on Virginia Drive, at 65,000 square feet in size, has been touted as an attractive new home for the library.
While multiple public meetings and professional engagements, including with project managers and an architect, appeared to imply that the library relocation was a done deal, the board itself had never officially memorialized its decision — a fact that was even acknowledged by board members themselves at their last public meeting on Feb. 12.
That particular meeting featured a presentation regarding ongoing fundraising efforts to support capital investment in 520 Virginia Drive as a library-supported building.
“I just want to make sure the public knows that this is what we’re doing — period,” Commissioner Ron Feldman stressed to the other commissioners regarding the building’s presumed use as a new library.
He said that if the board needs to cast a vote, it should do so without further delay.
“I just want to get to a point that, you make a line in the sand, and if you’re doing the [library] move, you’re doing the move!” he said.
Feldman’s comments soon compelled other board members to admit the board’s official position on the project, to this point, was not quite clear, even to themselves.
“I think [the project] has always been pitched as ‘contemplative,’” Commissioner Robert McGuckin said. “At no point did we ever say — in my opinion — that this is what we’re going to do.”
Board President Ira Tackel said the board always had the freedom to reconsider the project.
“We have not gone down the road so far that we can’t back out,” he said.
That freedom appears to have ended, with critical contract decisions needing to made now if the library hopes to see the light of day by its target completion date of January 2020.
Township Manager Paul Leonard confirmed in an interview after the meeting that the board on March 12 will cast an initial “go or no-go” vote on the library. If they vote to proceed with the project, the board will then vote to award the contracts for the work to begin, he said.
“After March 12, the investment and the decision will be done,” he said. “It’s up to the staff and professionals to execute it.”
Two members of the seven-member board have already voiced concerns officially over the long-term operating costs of the proposed library. McGuckin and Liz Ferry were the two no votes when the board voted in November 2017 to borrow $9 million, from which the $5 million was taken to purchase and renovation of 520 Virginia Drive.
Leonard said structured into the March 12 meeting will be a discussion on traffic impact from the new library, particularly on Highland Avenue and Camphill Road, which has remained unresolved.
Some residents have argued that the public has not been well-informed on the project and should have been given more chance to comment on the proposal in advance of the final vote, particularly since tax increases could be called for to help pay for the new library’s ongoing operating costs.
In a public blog posted on the township library’s website two days after the Feb. 12 board meeting, library Director Cheri Fiori said the proposed library could result in a 2.5 percent increase in the library tax and 3.5 percent increase in the municipal tax to run it. That means that the average homeowner in Upper Dublin would see a $68 increase in taxes, which, she said, would be phased in over two to three years. The average homeowner currently pays $103 per year in library taxes.
Leonard as well as members of the board have staunchly defended the township’s information campaign on the project, saying the public has been given multiple opportunities since 2017 to comment on and digest the data along the project’s multiple decision points.
Both the township and library continue to accept public comments and questions on the project.
Regarding the potential tax impact, as enumerated in the blog post, Leonard said the commissioners are likely taking that data as a “starting point” with the goal of reducing that impact over time based on revised staffing needs and changes in public participation, among other variables.