BLOOMINGTON — After months of remaining on the sidelines about a controversial downtown catalyst project, the Bloomington library board is sending a message about where it wants to expand the public library.
In a straw poll requested by library trustee Susan Mohr, the board voted 8-1 Tuesday night to expand the facility at its current location, 205 E. Olive St.
The library staff was directed to bring back a formal resolution that states that position for the board to vote on at its Feb. 20 meeting.
"I thought that it was important that we be clear about what our intentions are here ... and at least start the process of officially indicating that our plans for moving forward are to stay at this site and expand," said Mohr.
During a joint meeting of the City Council and library board in June, seven of the nine aldermen and Mayor Tari Renner voiced support for staying at the current site near City Hall on the southeast edge of downtown.
But in September, the Downtown Task Force proposed a project, seen as a catalyst for downtown economic development, to replace the aging, city-owned Market Street parking deck with a structure housing a new library, a Connect Transit bus transfer station and public parking. The proposal was the centerpiece of a report the task force approved Oct. 24.
"There have been a lot of mentions in the media and on social media about (the library board) already having expressed our intentions, but we really haven't after this came to us from the downtown task force after that June meeting," said Mohr.
But another joint meeting on Jan. 16, with the library, City Council and the Connect Transit board, did not alter six Bloomington aldermen's support for expanding the library where it is.
The library trustees' feedback about the Jan. 16 meeting was not all that positive, but the forum apparently helped library trustees make up their minds.
"This board, the stance they took up until tonight has been 'we don't have enough information to give an opinion on the Market Street garage site as a joint location with Connect Transit,'" said library Director Jeanne Hamilton. "Tonight, the board said they have the information from the joint meeting to make a decision now."
In 2015, the library board approved paying Farnsworth Group more than $80,000 to provide three conceptual site plans for expansion at its current site.
But on Monday, the board voted 7-2 to reject a proposal to pay Farnsworth another $14,850 to refine the conceptual site plans.
"The site plans that we have were very much a visionary exercise to give what the area south of library could look like in a library expansion. We had gotten a lot of questions ... and we were trying to fill in some of those blanks," said Hamilton.
Board President Alex Cardona urged the board to approve the planning services to send a message about where the library will expand.
"The city's budget discussions have been going on, and that's why we've had this sense of urgency of pulling together all of these due diligence items as quickly as possible," he added.
"I agree we need to send a message, but we don't have to send a message by spending money on something that probably won't be in the budget," said board Vice President Julian Westerhout. "I think we have sent a message with this straw poll and will send it more formally next month."