Sunday, July 5, 2009

The next steps in library expansion

The next steps in library expansion

Saturday, July 4, 2009


For The Phoenix

PHOENIXVILLE—The Library Board and Library Foundation, as expressed by Maureen Ash, Phoenixville Public Library Foundation President, in an April 11th letter to the Phoenix, "believes in community building and…providing the best possible library services to the local Phoenixville community," and that, "to accomplish this goal, we need to expand."

In the two years since library expansion became a topic around Phoenixville it is difficult—if not impossible—to find an area resident that is opposed to library expansion. Those in opposition to the expansion "concept" and the current course down which the Library Board wishes to proceed have stated clearly that they agree more library is need to accommodate the growing Phoenixville community.

In the same letter, Ash states, "To accomplish this goal [providing the best possible library services], the addition [expansion] needs to extend out to the property line of Reeves Park between Park Alley and Main Street."

To say that the Library "needs" to build onto 2nd Avenue is to assert that the Library Board has explored and can find no other options. Need is a strong word with a clear meaning, and the current Library Expansion concept is an expensive one—estimated at about 6.5 million dollars. In the end tax payers could be responsible for those dollars. Because tax payers could be held financially responsible for the expansion, some believe that Ash and the Library Board should explain and prove their needs.

When asked to comment about the Library Board's "need" to expand onto 2nd Avenue, borough resident Michael Kammerdiener said, "I've investigated other options for the Library Board. The old Moose Lodge, a three story building on Main Street, near Church Street, is currently on up for sale for $1,050,000. I've also talked to the agents representing a building on Main Street that used to be a Sovereign Bank and they hinted that they might entertain an offer in the $700,000 to $800,000 range. Both buildings would provide ample square footage, presumable lower the cost of the project, and not require the variances that will be needed to build over a causeway."

"I wish they [the Library Board] would just be truthful," said one borough resident, "that this is the expansion project they want, not the project they or the citizens need."

Three years ago the Library Board turned down an opportunity to purchase the property immediately north of the library, temporarily shelving any chance of expanding northward on Main Street. And earlier this year the Library Board accepted an anonymous donation of $500,000 in support of the concept to build onto 2nd Avenue, adding 500,000 reasons to stick to their concept are frame a picture of need. Some say the need to expand onto 2nd Avenue—if a need does exists—is self created by the Library Board.

The Library Board has said that if they did move the Library to another location within the Borough and out of the Carnegie building it would lose the yearly contractual funding (some $400,000) they receive from the Phoenixville Area School District. But there is argument as to whether or not the School District is required to financially support the Library, and there have been talks at School Board meetings about ending such support.

Despite the opposition of some residents, Borough Council has approved the Library Board's efforts with their concept by a vote of 5-2. Some say that Council's majority support is as unsubstantiated as the Library Board's self proclaimed need to build over 2nd Avenue.

"The current plan…is 'the only plan' because that is the way it has been orchestrated to appear," said Anthony DiGirolomo, Phoenixville resident and former Borough Council President. "The entire process was back-doored to those who represent the residents of the borough and are entrusted to govern, on our behalf, with the best interest of the community in mind."

Another resident said, "The Library and Reeves Park do not belong to the Library Board. They belong to the citizens of Phoenixville. There are deeds, laws and ordinances in place that should be protecting us from this, but those in charge of protecting us from special interests that would devalue our neighborhoods and property are letting this happen and I just don't see the logic in council not asking the library to show they really have explored all other options."

One of the hurdles the Library board has to overcome to continue on with their concept involves a Pennsylvania state law that splits the land of vacated causeways between the adjacent property owners. This means, by law, that the Library could only be expanded to the middle of 2nd Avenue—a law that if upheld would thwart the current Library Expansion concept.

Planning Committee Solicitor Kim Venzie stated in meetings that the Borough could disregard the law if it chooses. And if unchallenged in court or by residents, they absolutely can.

It is believed that the Library Board is in the process of applying for variances on zoning ordinances regarding issues like reducing the recommended number of 80-92 parking spaces their concept would require. This would take about 2 weeks to complete, and then the Planning Committee would consider the plan presented by the Library Board.

It is expected that the Planning Committee will approve the plan with a few recommendations attached as they pass it on to Borough Council for final approval. By the time the final plan reaches council, 2 ½ months will have elapsed. At that point it is likely the Library Board's plan will become reality.

Those in favor of the concept can continue supporting the Library Board and encouraging their Council representatives to approve the plan they receive when they receive it.

Those in opposition can only continue to make their voices heard. Or they can hope.

One thing they can hope is for the School Board to change their minds and not accept the parcel of 2nd Avenue they recently voted to take ownership of. It is an unlikely possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.

The Mayor could also formally step in as guardian of Reeves Park and, if nothing else, put the breaks on the speed with which the plan has passed though Council thus far and extend the approval process into next year for a new Borough Council to hear. This is more of a possibility considering what seems to be the Mayor's position against the current concept.

To follow proceedings as they happen, or to stand before Borough representatives to voice your opinion, you can attend the next Planning Committee meeting scheduled for July 9th at 7pm in the Municipal Building.


Anonymous said...

A very good article by Joe Rooney. I agree that the "need" for building across Second Avenue was a created one.
However, the impact of any court decisions on the plan was not emphasized and that is where this whole thing is probably going. Many of these small town zoning issues are decided first by their governing bodies, but ultimately by a judge. Let's hope the people opposed to this know that, and file appeals in a timely fashion after the votes are taken. There is a small window of opportunity in which to appeal any of their decisions.

Anonymous said...

There is 6.5 million for the building, but also 2 million for the furnishings, brought up at the last meeting.
Also, regarding the half million dollar donation they got: I don't recall that there were strings attached to it, it was not mentioned at the time of the announcement that they had to expand across Second Avenue in order to get the money, but now the donor has added that requirement? When did that get added? Very convenient. Those folks seem to say whatever they want and really set a bad example of how to get things done in an open and honest way. Pathetic and shameful.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Dinniman (D-19th. Dist.) introduced a bill in the state Senate Thursday that would limit the power of lame duck school boards to act on a superintendent's contract following primary elections. The bill was drafted in direct response to the Owen J. Roberts School Board's recent termination of District Superintendent Myra Forrest.

Can this bill be extended to help our situation? OJR is only getting screwed out of a salary and benefits - a paltry 200k. We're looking at six million dollars plus ruining the park, traffic, parking, etc etc.

Dinniman says he's received over 100 calls & letters and he should hear from us too.

I'm going to call his office first thing tomorrow and I hope you do too. 610-692-2112

Tell him the new school board that starts in November hates this plan so they're hurrying to beat the new board swearing in.

Anonymous said...

Joe Rooney, freelance journalist for the residents of Phoenixville--I am in recipt of documents recieved from the
Borough in response to my application of a right-to-know. My request included all CDC reports to Borough, CDC contract with Borough, CDC accounting, and CDC grant applications and results...the documents I recieved have put me in to a rage. It is evident, in the construction of the Borough's contract with the CDC and the documents I recieved as a result of my request of a right to know that there is absolutely no oversight in regard to the Borough ensuring the 125,00 tax payer dollars it invests in the services of the CDC are spent in accordance to the best interests of the Borough residents. I requested all monthly reports(and only recieved 6 reports dating back to 5-13-08--where are the rest?), and what I recieved, if handed in by a student to a teacher would not only qualify the student for a failing grade, but prompt the teacher the contact the parents. The reports are laughable in composition--spelling errors (granted I have spelling errors in my articles from time to time and probably some here but no one is paying me 125,000 to be an advovate to the Borough), thin explinations progress, actions, and no follow through in anything. I will be persuing this issue of lack of over sight not becuase of any personal vendeta against the CDC, but because as a resident I want and and believe my fellow residents also want to get the best return on the investment we've put into the borough as property owners. What I recieved today is the best my local government can do to help me understand the progress of our redevelopment, somethings got to change. The CDC has accomplished many things, but when it comes to finding out why they didn't accomplish what they said they would unless we demand thourough and detailed reporting, and the same detail in oversight.

Karen said...

Anonymous 10:41 p.m., this belongs on a new thread.

I'll start one for discussion.

Anonymous said...

is the place to look for this and other articles. The Phoenix and Journal Register company are working the kinks out.