By Bob Uphues
Brookfield voters won't confront a future referendum for funding the construction of a new public library. The library's board of trustees on Dec. 8 announced they've scrapped that plan and instead will issue a request for proposals from architectural firms to build an addition to the existing library.
The estimated $6 million addition will be paid for out of cash reserves that the library board quietly has been setting aside for the last decade.
"We'll find out if we get what we need," said library board President Linda Kampschroeder. "We're not just going to go with any old thing. We want something where the end product is something we can be happy with."
The library board is courting architectural firms with specific experience designing libraries, including the firm it has worked with for the past several years on its now-abandoned plan for a new library campus, Studio GC.
Architecture firms have been given pretty much a blank slate on which to work up a new plan. The request for proposals asks firms to design an addition that will accommodate a large, divisible meeting room capable of holding 100 people, a quiet reading room, study rooms, a full-size commercial elevator, physically separate children and adult areas, an open outdoor educational space and parking.
Spaces and furnishings, according to the request for proposals should be flexible in order for allow for multiple uses.
As for the footprint of the end product or just how all of that gets accomplished, the library board is challenging architectural firms to be imaginative.
"We're open to possibilities," Kampschroeder said. "We want to let [firms] let us know how creative they can be."
The library board decided to walk away from its longtime dream of building an entirely new library facility after a year of soul searching that followed an unsuccessful referendum in November 2016.
The library board asked voters to approve a $10 million bond issue to fund a new library, to be built on land at 3541 Park Ave., which the library had purchased in 2012 from the Brookfield United Methodist Church.
In addition to a new building at that site, the library board proposed creating a library campus by convincing the village of Brookfield to vacate a portion of Lincoln Avenue to create green space connecting the new building to a parking lot across the street, where the present library stands.
Whether the new plan will incorporate any of those ideas is unknown at this point. The only thing the library knows for certain is that the addition will be horizontal rather than vertical.
When the present library was constructed in the 1980s, it was designed in such a way that it can't structurally support additional floors.
"There's no mention [in the request for proposals] on how to go about designing this," said Library Director Kimberly Coughran. "There have been no decisions about what it's going to look like. We're waiting for ideas from the firms."
The Brookfield village board approved the library's plan in May 2016, capping a five-year process. The village board gave the library another five years to get the new facility constructed, but the 2016 referendum failed by a little more than 500 votes.
The library board conducted a "listening tour" in early 2017 as part of a referendum post-mortem and in July to get additional input from residents. After a board retreat in July, trustees began moving toward an alternate plan.
"We're not working from a place of sour grapes," Kampschroeder said. "We've let go of any negative feelings and are embracing what is possible, what's open to us."
The public library is almost at its $6 million funding goal. For the past decade, knowing that the present library is inadequate, the board began setting money aside in a special fund.
At the board's next meeting on Dec. 20, the library board will vote to make another transfer from its operating fund to its capital projects fund, bringing the total in that special fund to $5.2 million, according to Coughran.
It will take many months, possibly more than a year, to navigate the village's planned development process.
"It's going to take time," Kampschroeder said. "There's not going to be any quick fix."