Lebanon Library referendum fails to make the April ballot

Dr. George Fero, Sr. (left) listens as resident Roberto Roma (second from right) asks questions about the proposed referendum. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon Library Board proposed a $4.16 million dollar referendum to the Lebanon City Council, and after a lengthy discussion and debate, it failed in a 5-3 vote. Library board members answered questions from council and community members about their dream project, and now have a new direction. 

As of last January, as specified by City of Lebanon Treasurer Paul Grob, the Lebanon Public Library became the owners of a building at 318 South Fritz that formerly housed St. Joseph’s grade school. The purchase price was over $50,000, and the move would allow the library to move from their 1,250 foot space on St. Louis Street to over 10,000 feet of space. The board has renderings and ideas for the new space on their website which include two floors of ideas, including a small cafe, a dedicated children’s area and several community rooms. 

Over the last several months, the board has mentioned several different numbers for the project that could be brought forth in a referendum on the April ballot, including most recently $2 million dollars. George Fero, Sr. presented to the council as they looked at preliminary design documents prepared this month, from Van Voyles of White & Borgognoni Architechts, P.C., located in Carbondale, Illinois. 

The documents include estimates for work to the existing structure, including demolition of much of the inside and abatement of environmental issues. “The first thing the structural engineer discovered was that the second floor could not withstand the weight of the books and stacks, and that that floor would need to be replaced. The approximate cost of that, currently in the estimate that you have, is about $400,000,” Fero said. 

Environmental concerns would cost another $97,900 for asbestos, mold and issues with bats, and another $14,350 would need to be spent on underground oil storage tank removal. The estimate includes just over $400,000 in electrical and plumbing work, and $358,248 for HVAC. 

The total for construction and design elements, such as a $3,500 clock, came to $2,656,338.93. The rest of the estimate includes contractor overhead and profits that near $200,000, almost $625,000 in contingency fees, and $414,089.41 in soft costs. Those costs include over $337,000 in architectural and engineering fees. 

The building would not be tornado or earthquake proof, but would be fireproof. Fero said the board was told by White & Borgognoni that the building did not have to be tornado or earthquake proof, and doing so would require a whole new structure. The building would also not be “turn key,” and would still need stacks and materials. Fero said the board planned to apply for grants to cover as much of those materials as possible.

The library board did do away with some wishes for the project to help lower costs, and noted that the presentation was of their dreams. Fero said “It will be a showcase facility for the city of Lebanon.” He added that bids may come in lower for the project, which could lower the tax that was passed forward to residents. Under the $4.16 million dollar referendum,

Alderman Rick Gale asked why the library needed 10,000 in square footage and if they could do with less, and mentioned that the new firehouse was under $2,000,000. Alderman Bart Bartholomew said “We need a new City Hall, too. Why couldn’t that be combined? If we build a new City Hall, we would have to have another bond issue. We could combine them to have one bond.”

“We weren’t looking for a 10,000 square foot building, we just wanted something,” said Library Board Member Julie Ford. She explained that the board searched for a long time and examined the idea of building from scratch before purchasing the former grade school. 

Several community members questioned the estimate and space needs, but none of the community or council members denied that the library does need a new space to be able to have programs for the more than 1,000 residents that use their services. 

After a motion to place the referendum on the April 2019 ballot, only aldermen Landall Mack, Wilbert Jenkins and Al Gerdes voted to approve the motion. Gerdes said he wanted to give the Lebanon residents the chance to decide for themselves. Aldermen Frank Almeter, Rick Gale, Joe Diliberto, Bart Bartholomew, and Cheri Wright voted against the referendum. 

After the measure failed, Mayor Rich Wilken took the suggestion of one of the meeting attendees to put together a committee to start looking at the feasibility of a new civic center that would serve as a joint use facility for City Hall and the library. Volunteers from the audience included Teddy Sells and Roberto Roma, with volunteers from the council including Frank Almeter, Cheri Wright, Al Gerdes and Paul Grob. An opportunity to volunteer for the committee will be presented to the public, and meetings will be open and comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 

The city council will meet on Friday, December 21 at 6:00 p.m. to vote on the purchase of a new dump truck, and then will not meet again until January.