Downtown Library Project Update

Downtown LibraryDowntown Library

On Monday evening, September 15, 2008, after months of work that included three public information sessions, focus groups with the public and the staff and several public meetings, the Library Board made the important decision to replace the current Downtown Library with a new building in the same location at South Fifth Avenue and William Street. The new building will be 47% larger at 160,000 square feet and four stories. Current services will be enhanced and spaces for youth, teens, exhibits, meetings, study, and reading will be larger. The building will include a 400 seat auditorium; a Reading Room that will be designated as a quiet area for reading and study; a children's area three times larger than the current area; expanded space for collections including audiovisual formats; adaptive technology labs for adults and children as part of our new mission to serve the blind and physically disabled; and the flexibility in the future to accommodate new formats and services without expensive remodeling. We will continue our commitment to build responsibly using sustainable technologies and the new downtown library will be barrier free and accessible to everyone.

In the current building much of the essential infrastructure, including electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, is original to the 1958 building and it is failing. Credit should be given to the effort that was made over the 50 year life cycle of the Downtown Library to those who maintained and serviced the building. Things wear out, and when they do, they need to be replaced. The scope of this project enables the use of modern, efficient building systems that will result in a more sustainable library.

The 1990 addition was completed prior to the adoption of the American with Disabilities Act. Again, credit should be given to the efforts of staff and administrators over the past 17 years for their efforts in making what changes they could to the building to accommodate those in the community with disabilities. However, in our community a public building should be accessible to everyone without barriers. The library Board is committed to building such a building.

The library Board has not determined what funding mechanisms will be used to pay for the building, but it will likely be a combination of a bond, a capital millage, and fundraising. The current cost estimate for the new building is $71 million. More schematic design work is scheduled through December and the program of services and functions is still being reviewed. Library Board meeting dates, minutes, and agendas are posted at Please join us as we work to assure library services in a building that will serve our community to 2050 and beyond.

The Ann Arbor community is proud of its Downtown Library and the short history below will illustrate how decisions to make room for expanding collections and needed services have been made time and again with enthusiasm and generosity by the taxpayers. It is our hope that this enthusiasm and generosity will support a new Downtown Library to open in Ann Arbor in 2011.

By the 1940s, the need for a new Downtown Library to replace the Carnegie-funded structure on Huron Street and State Street had become apparent. Years of study led to the selection of the site at the corner of South Fifth Avenue and William Street for this new library, which opened it doors on October 13, 1957. By the early 1970s this building itself had become insufficient to meet the needs of a growing library system (which by then had also constructed the Loving Branch, precursor to the Malletts Creek Branch). An expansion doubling the size of the 1957 building was completed in 1974. A third addition was completed in 1991, again doubling the size of the library, in order to meet the needs of a growing collection size, rising circulation numbers, and increased programming offerings.

In 2007, the AADL hired PROVIDENCE Associates LLC to undertake a study assessing the 20-year feasibility of the Downtown Library. This study included 10 focus groups with more than 100 users of the AADL and sought to determine the needs of the library as its needs and offerings to the community continue to grow. The findings of this study led the AADL Board to issue a Request for Qualifications for Architectural and Engineering Services that eventually resulted in the selection of Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects, PLLC of Ann Arbor. Skanska was hired as the construction firm who would undertake the project in whatever form it would eventually take.

At the same time as the development of the concept for the Downtown Library, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority created a plan to replace the parking lot on the north side of the Library with an underground parking garage. This led the two organizations to develop a joint survey asking for feedback on both the Downtown Library and parking. The results of this survey will help guide the AADL and Lukenbach|Ziegelman Architects as plans for the Downtown Library develop.

2007 Providence Report on the Twenty-Year Feasibility of the Downtown Library
2008 AADL Downtown Branch Renovation and South Fifth Avenue Underground Parking Survey


thanks for adding the post. Josie

I also just noticed that the clock on the site is an hour off -
right now it's giving a timestamp of 1:00 p.m. instead of 2:00.

Thanks, maryre, I've fixed the server time.


Congratulations! This is a tremendously cost-effective and sustainable investment for everyone in Ann Arbor, and ensures that the library will remain the crown jewel of downtown for many years to come.

While the focus on facilities and services is essential and understandable, I hope the leadership of the library will remember to devote equal energy improving the breadth and quality of its physical and digital collections. The availability of high-quality information resources at the AADL is a critical enabler for entrepreneurial small businesses throughout Washtenaw County, not to mention sheer quality of life. Perhaps there could be a patron committee to focus on collections.

Just please think of the people who use the downtown location *daily* when setting up the temporary branch. For tips please visit the Off-Site of the UMMA. They did a fantastic job with a relatively uninspiring space (used to be Mitch's, but you'd never know it!).

"Off-Site" has become so popular they are considering keeping it open even after the museum opens back up.

Cheers and good luck, you've done marvelous work at your other new branches.

It's amazing the blind budgetary eye that proposals like this paint, I for one will vote down any millage for new downtown library as our city is already over extended by a new high school and upcoming planning of an unneeded city hall. Add to that dropping home values (my taxes dropped this year and will again next year) and right around the corner the City will be announcing cuts.

I remember the renovation to the library 18 years ago but it's unclear to me why a new building is needed so quickly, was there not proper planning at that time? Why are industrial grade heating and cooling systems failing? (per the Ann Arbor News article). What would the costs be to only meet the ADA requirements? Are existing public structure required to meet the requirements? (I'm assuming no, but public policy is not logical)

What are the plans to change the library model from a central downtown library to more and more where people actually live? Many administrative duties can be done in locations with lower costs. If the library's scope includes being a public gathering place, could space in UM class rooms be leased for less (they are typically empty at night).

Lets start with a library strategy (including options) and then go from there, not jump to a $71M library that will be used by a small portion of the Ann Arbor population.

For the love of Pete, please don't hire the same architects that built that nightmare on Traverwood. It's perfectly hideous and I shudder to think at what monstrosity they would come up with for the downtown library. Seriously, Traverwood is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.

I like the fact that the Library Is getting A remodelization cause It may count down on how long people wait for the Computers. Also as far as the underground Parking garage its kinda redundant cause It again will be full like it is now and now matter how many parking spaces there are it will always be full.

Thank you Mr. Zimmerman. I appreciate your consistent and enthusiastic support of the Library. We are equally committed to taking care of the core mission of the library and are not forgetting that we are a lending library. There is, in essence, a "patron committee" in existence now. Hundreds of people use our online suggestion form each year and librarians use that input when purchasing for the collection.



I agree! UMMA did a wonderful job with Off-Site and it is a good model for us to consider. We will do everything within our power to make daily trips to a downtown library location simple and straightforward during construction. The hundreds of people who use the existing building each day compel us to make this big decision, and when a new library is opened, those people and many more will be able to use the downtown library each day.

Thanks for the positive feedback on the branches. We are very pleased with how well they are used.



The good news is that there is a library strategy, including options, and the community, staff, and board have spent the past 18 months working through the strategy to the point where the library board could make this very important decision. It began really, in 2004, when the Board adopted a strategic plan that includes an objective to renovate or replace the Downtown Library. The process has been transparent, deliberate, and inclusive.

More good news, and a compelling reason to address the issues with the current building, is that last year the Downtown Library was visited 700,000 times and circulated 1,052,796 items. These are amazing numbers for a location in a system that has seen the opening of three new branches in six years. Use across the system rises every time a new building opens. A new library building in downtown Ann Arbor that is designed to be accessible and functional for 50 more years will provide for much higher numbers in both door count and circulation. Last year the AADL experienced over 8M circulation transactions system-wide and was visited 1,643,078 times.

The original 1958 building has been added onto twice in 50 years, and much of the HVAC, wastewater, storm water, and electrical systems are original. The connections between the three portions of the building were made with the materials available at the time and cost had to be considered. Consequently, we have a building that is not one building, but three, and essential parts have deteriorated beyond a reasonable life and only work now because they are maintained in some cases on a daily basis and others monthly.

To bring the existing building into full ADA compliance at a level that the library board and community would consider reflective of the community's standards concerning access to the disabled would cost in the millions. Tearing out to upgrade for one thing will lead to the necessity to work on others thus increasing the costs dramatically. The cost to renovate and expand the existing building is estimated at 65M as opposed to the cost to replace the building at 71M. The gap between these two would likely shrink because of the structural and site condition unknowns that will surface when the building is demolished.

While the boundaries of the Ann Arbor District Library are contiguous with those of the Ann Arbor Public Schools and taxes paid to both are paid by the same population, it is important to note that the City of Ann Arbor taxes are not paid by everyone who lives within the district boundaries of the Library. The library levies a separate voted millage from all other governmental and educational units and the budget is adopted each May. The Board of AADL is an elected board. We are proud that all three of the new branches were paid for out of our EXISTING millage. The AADL has been able to add them and their operating costs without asking for additional funds. They are all paid for and the Library is debt free. The Library will not be asking the community for additional funds to operate a new library.

The library board is sensitive to the current economic situation, but their decision to go forward with a plan for a new library was not made in a vacuum. The hope is that the community will support the notion that taking care of past investments is less expensive than letting then languish to be dealt with in the distant future. A new library will never cost less than it will now, and a massive building project in downtown Ann Arbor will create jobs and support the local economy. Libraries in downtown areas are also economic drivers for communities and ours is no exception. 700,000 visits to the library includes parking fees, dinners and lunch out in nearby restaurants, shopping, visits to the Hands On Museum, etc.

I hope that you can reconsider your vote when the opportunity to support a millage for a new library presents itself in the future.


Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects of Ann Arbor have been selected to design the new Downtown Library. This firm designed Malletts Creek and Pittsfield Branch.


Thank you, and we will be adding more computers in a new library. The underground parking garage is a project being done by the City and the DDA. Currently there are 250 parking spaces in the lot, and the proposed gargage will offer over 700.

Thanks for giving us your feedback and you can look forward to a better computing environment.


The survey that supposedly supports this choice was poorly constructed, and people supported "Renovation/Redesign" (note that even the title of the survey was "Downtown Branch Renovation") by only 48%. So the majority were of mixed opinion or opposed, even to the concept of renovation. Perhaps if a complete teardown and rebuild was an option that should have been an option on the survey, which it clearly was not.

We are in the midst of the worst credit crunch since the Great Depression. The state of Michigan is in the midst of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Gas prices in real terms are about the same as at the worst of the 70s. It's a little incredible to say that the Board is sensitive to the current economic situation yet they'll be asking the voters for a tremendous millage at about the worst possible time, to fund yet another monument to the excesses of the development bubble.

Millage votes rarely fail in Ann Arbor, but when they do it's usually for projects considered out of touch with economic reality. I hope you're prepared to go back to the drawing board with this project.

Mr. Clark,

Thanks for your comments. We understand the issues, and yes, we will make other choices if a millage fails.



Could you please post a like to the survey in full, including methodology (which is typically more important than the answers given).

Can you explain further why tax payers should build a 400 person auditorium when such facilities are easily available at UM? (classrooms, Hill auditorium, Rackum etc.) Regarding computers, what portion of your users have computers at home and are simply looking for a free place to hang out? What limitation are being put in place to ensure the computers are used for education and research and not adult sites? (I've seen this many times at the AADL).

Lastly, please post a link to the strategic plan for the library. I'm assuming this will be multi-tiered with plans for both increasing and decreasing levels of funding as well as subplans addresses changes in demographics. It will be very disappointing if the plan shows perpetual increasing services irregardless of inflation, economic downturns or proactive planning/saving for the replacement of capital assets (i.e. avoid mileages).

After following the articles in the Ann Arbor News and talking to library users, I had come to the conclusion that a new library is necessary. Frankly, the portion of my taxes that go to the AADL is about the only thing that I don't complain about in my tax bill because I think it is a stellar institution. But, I have recently learned that there will be no space given to the "Friends" bookstore in the new building. How is this possible? This organization donates thousands of dollars, with no restrictions, to support the library, and to turn them out is not only a slap in the face to this volunteer group but an irresponsible decision given the amount of money that they turn over to the library.

I urge anyone who is a patron of the Friends Bookstore to voice their opinion on this matter.


The new library does include space for a bookshop and storage for the Friends. The space currently used by the FAADL is approximately 6,000 square feet, and that amount of space won't be available to them in the new building. Several AADL Board members and I have been meeting with members of the FAADL Board for several months about what contingency and long-term plans the FAADL can consider for the shop.

I am very glad that you support the library and hopefully this news about the FAADL will alleviate your concerns.


Thanks Josie-my concerns have been alleviated!


The strategic plan is updated frequently and the AADL operates in much the way you describe. It is because we don't add services without regard to revenue and expenditures that we are healthy financially and have been able to replace branches with new buildings without incurring debt or jeopardizing our ability to maintain core services.

We have great relationships with many community groups and institutions, including the UM, and our program listing bears this out. AADL has made a name for itself locally for our ability to provide speakers and perfomers with international reputations at the library at no charge to the public. This serves the life long learning portion of our mission. Our ability to seat the number of persons interested in attending is growing more and more difficult. Last year we had 14 events with over 200 in attendance, and 7 with over 300. Three events were held off site because of the expected numbers. One of those was the Cokie Roberts event at the Michigan Theatre. We are limited in what we can bring to an interested audience only by our space. Spaces at UM, the MI Theatre, the Ark are available, but they are not exclusively available for uses outside their institutions so the schedule is unpredictable and the venue doesn't always match up to our needs. The same can be said for AADL spaces. We try hard to give the community as much access to the public library spaces as we can, but own events come first on our schedule. The demand for public meeting spaces is very high and the new library will offer many more such spaces.

The AADL offers over 120 public computers and wireless computing capability in all of our buildings. As part of our commitment to intellectual freedom and the preservation of civil rights, we do not consider what one does at the library to be our business as long as it is within the law and within the bounds of civility as described in the library's rules of behavior.

The debate about the relative importance of survey method and survey results is one that I will let continue on without my input. The survey results are located on the site under our Buildings tab. The 2000 + comments included as part of the results are very helping in understanding how the community feels about the current library and any changes to the library.

Thanks for your comments.


It is my sincere hope that any further new buildings are built _as libraries_, and not as exercises for architectural firms. Sustainable design is appreciated, but design that directly conflicts with the intent of the building _is_, in part, a waste of money. For instance the lack of space between aisles in many places (try picking out a DVD with your significant other at Mallet's Creek), the parking and acoustical nightmares that are the newest branch, etc.

I also hope that, as the library spends upwards of $100m on two - really one - goal from the Strategic Plan, it will not disregard some of those other, equally important goals. Some of the goals appear to have been entirely ignored.

quo vadimus,

Acoustical challenges in branches serving so many children and young people are a positive constant for the Library. I appreciate your comments. We will be able to successfully segregate noise in a 160,000 square foot building in ways that are impossible in a 16,000 square foot branch. In addition to designating the noisiest functions on the same floors, the new library will include a Reading Room in the traditional talking and no electronics. It will be a quiet only space.

The estimated cost for the new downtown library is 71M. The strategic plan extends to 2010 and if there are objectives that are not being met that are of particular interest to you, please, let me know specifically what those are. I can better address your concerns if I know exactly what you are interested in seeing accomplished by the Library.