Missouri River Regional Library proposes tax levy increase for building expansion

Submitted photo: 
This concept drawing of the remodeled Missouri River Regional Library shows a view looking at the Jefferson City library from High Street. In this view, people may be seen standing on the veranda outside the second floor, known as the Green Roof.
Submitted photo: This concept drawing of the remodeled Missouri River Regional Library shows a view looking at the Jefferson City library from High Street. In this view, people may be seen standing on the veranda outside the second floor, known as the Green Roof.

Missouri River Regional Library administrators want to build a third floor and expand the two existing floors of its Jefferson City building.

To that end, its board unanimously approved placing Proposition L, a property tax levy increase of 75 percent, on the Aug. 8 ballot in Cole County.

The board voted on the move Tuesday night.

Voters will decide whether to approve increasing the assessed valuation of their properties for the library from 20 cents per $100 property valuation to 35 cents per $100, according to a news release.

The money raised is not just for construction, but for sustaining the library as well, board member Jeff Briggs said in the board meeting.

"We haven't had a levy increase in almost 60 years," he said. "We're way past time for us to do this."

Added board member Bob Priddy, "Once you get the plans in, once people can actually see something, it's going to be very impressive for somebody to walk into."

Board and administrative staff members believe this expansion is essential for the library to keep up with the community.

"We felt like we needed to keep moving forward," MRRL director Claudia Young said. "It's important to set up library service in this community for the next 50 years."

She added that even in an increasingly digital age, she wanted a bigger library to provide more services, programs and a gathering place for the community -- a library that a state capital deserves, she said.

New facilities in plan

This is set to be the first major renovation for the building since it was built in the middle of the previous century, said Natalie Newville, assistant director of marketing and development. The last tax levy increase, which paid for the current building, was passed in 1964.

The new third floor of the library will be dedicated to youth services, Newville added. It would house the collection rooms for children and teenagers, study rooms and a mothers' room.

Meanwhile, the expanded second floor will include a technology lab for small business development, meeting rooms and a connected green space that goes around the building.

Library staff members plan to add to the existing technology services the library provides, such as 3D printing and Adobe suite software. MRRL will include space and equipment for new podcast creators, Newville said.

Although uncertainty remains about what to include in the lab, Newville said the library's board and administrative staff envision this new space to "be a great way" to support emerging local small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The renovated first floor will serve adult patrons with new community rooms and a library store. Administrative staff members could also move back to offices there, Young said. Currently, their offices are in a separate building.

The plan calls for adding meeting rooms to every floor of the building, Young said. A large meeting room on the second floor could be partitioned into three smaller spaces while a meeting room on the children's floor would be used for story time.

"The thing that we struggle with the most right now is, because we have 50 to 60 programs a month just with library staff and we only have one large meeting room and one smaller meeting room, it creates a lot of challenges for letting other outside groups come in," Newville said.

Other renovations to the library would include building larger bathrooms and elevators to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, bringing in shorter shelves and wider aisles, as well as upgrading its electrical and internet systems, according to the library's website.

"We're maxed out with our Wi-Fi, so we can't have a higher bandwidth than what we have right now, same with our electrical outlets," Newville said.

History of renovations

The MRRL building was originally supposed to have a third floor, but the board could not afford the cost, so only two floors were built. As a result, space has been an issue for a while now, Young said.

The library has planned on improving the bathrooms, elevators, and electrical and network infrastructure since 2018, she added. Ideas for expansion soon followed.

"We knew that, no matter what, we would have to tackle those four critical building issues, and while we were doing that, why not dream bigger for this community?" Young said.

The bigger dream would increase the area of the building by around 60 percent, according to the library's website. If the levy is passed, the library would move out of its current building in the summer of 2024 and return in the spring of 2026, Newville said.

MRRL staff conducted community surveys in 2017 and 2021 to see what residents want out of their library, while several staff members visited other libraries to come up with ideas for the new facilities, Young said.

She noticed in the surveys that -- especially for people who did not usually use the library -- they wanted it to provide more non-traditional services like study rooms and work spaces.

"People really wanted to have a community center kind of feel," Newville said. "People really wanted something for those 20- and 30-somethings where they could meet people that wasn't a bar or a church."

Tax levy increase for funding

The price tag for the renovation and construction project is $28.5 million, according to the library's website. If voters approve the proposed tax levy increase, the library will be able to fund the project with the collected tax and $4 million in savings.

Young said she didn't want to be the library director who asked for too much money, nor did she want to be the director who didn't ask for enough.

"While the percentage of the tax of the cents might be a lot, really 20 cents to 35 cents is not that much when you're looking at the additional cost," Newville said.

Adam Pope of Columbia Capital, whom the library hired as a financial advisor, cautioned against asking for anything less than a 15-cent increase in the levy, Young said, because of uncertainty in the construction market and covering for the future operating cost of an expanded building.

"We have no idea if they'll really cost us as much or as little as we think," Young said.

The library hired the architects to design the expansion in 2020. The cost increased by $10 million during the past two years, Young said.

"If we had not done anything, we'd already be two or three years behind at this point, and we just didn't feel that that was acceptable," she said.

The money raised will not only pay construction costs, but also allow MRRL to hire at least six more staff members.

MRRL leaders also plan to use the new tax revenue to upgrade technology and equipment, expand library outreach programs, as well as to cover operating costs, Young added.

Young said a concern was that there be enough money on hand to pay additional staff and other costs for a larger facility. If you build a building, but can't operate it, then it becomes a problem.

The future is always uncertain, Priddy said.

Priddy added, "The future is not cheap. The status quo is cheap."

  photo  Submitted photo This concept drawing of the remodeled Missouri River Regional Library shows the information desk of the library on its main floor. The area is open to the third floor above.
  photo  Submitted photo This concept drawing of the remodeled Missouri River Regional Library shows the out-of-doors area of hte second floor known as the Green Roof.
  photo  Submitted photo This concept drawing of the remodeled Missouri River Regional Library shows its main entrance, which will be at the southeast corner of the structure.
  photo  MRRL Executive Director Claudia Young (left) speaks while Board President Stacy Fick takes notes about the proposed 25 cent tax levy increase prior to the boards unanimous approval to put the issue on the ballot. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)
  photo  The MRRL Board of Trustees meets to discuss a proposed tax levy for improvements to the 59 year old library building in Jefferson City Thursday evening. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)
  photo  MRRL Trustee Jeff Briggs (right) shares his thoughts on the proposed tax levy while Board Vice Preside Kaye Bertels listens. If the ballot measure passes, major renovations will be made to the 59 year old library building in Jefferson City. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)