The city of Cornelius is considering a large project that includes a library, a recreation center (possibly the YMCA) and affordable senior housing in a three-story building to be constructed in the town center. For more than 10 years, the community has been working on the right plan for a new library. This plan maximizes resources, provides much-needed community services and presents taxpayers with an opportunity to greatly leverage their funds.

The construction cost for the library portion is estimated at $4.8 million. A levy would provide $2.4 million from Cornelius property taxes, and a match of $2.4 million would be raised from foundations and grants. Developer and partner Bienestar will contribute development services and another $8 million for the senior housing portion. There is no cost for the housing to Cornelius taxpayers. The cost to an average homeowner for the $12.8 million project is estimated to be $52 per year.

What does the $52 a year buy? In the library, it provides weekly story times and books to help children learning to read. It provides a safe place for youth to study, meet with tutors and get assistance with homework resources. It provides free access to computers, software and equipment for small and home businesses and job seekers. It provides spaces for the community to gather for free cultural, educational and civic programs. It provides free print and electronic books for recreational reading, personal study and information needs.

Bienestar has already invested more than $100,000 to pre-plan and determine the project feasibility. This included a third-party housing market study, architectural drawings, contractor estimates and voter polling. Interviews with major fundraisers indicated this project could potentially raise $2,180,000 from just 28 locally operating funders. Several have programs that will match private donations dollar for dollar.

Are libraries still useful? Yes. The Cornelius Library has a record number of users with more than 118,000 items being checked out last year. At any given time, 25 percent of the collection is checked out (accounting for a few empty shelves previously asked about). More than 5,500 people came to one of the 221 library programs. More than 1,000 Cornelius children participated in the summer reading program. These and other folks find the library very useful.

How will future operations be funded? The new library is estimated to need additional part-time staff, totaling 80 hours of work per week. In addition to staff, facility and other operational expenses, the total budget is expected to increase by about $190,000.

Library revenue comes from fines, grants, and, primarily, Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS) funds. WCCLS and member libraries are working on a new funding model to accommodate library expansions. Additional WCCLS funds, fines, grants and payments from a planned

café and recreation center partners would increase revenue to an expected $215,000.

Because the housing on the second and third floor will be totally operated and paid for by an outside nonprofit agency, the agency will pay for two-thirds of outside and grounds maintenance.

Under current conditions, it is possible the new library will not cost Cornelius any more money than it does today.

The community is faced with an amazing opportunity. This project benefits so many people for so little money. Besides taking care of our youth and elders, it strengthens our community, helps redevelop our downtown and starts to rebuild our economy.

Get more facts online at the city of Cornelius website,

Karen Hill is director of the Cornelius Public Library.

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