One of the burning questions of the proposed Platteville Library Block project has to be answered before a shovel of dirt is turned, or a building is demolished:
Where will the library go once the library building is demolished and before the new library is built?
One answer may be the Platteville School District’s O.E. Gray building. The School Board voted 6–1 Monday night to rent the O.E. Gray library, its adjoining rooms, and one classroom to the city between May 1, 2015 and July 31, 2016.
The city would pay $1,775 per month in rent, and be responsible for structural changes, such as electrical service, and cleaning the temporary library.
Moving the library to O.E. Gray requires Platteville Common Council approval. It also obviously involves the project’s going forward.
Whether the project does go forward, at least with the businesses currently involved with it, may be known as early as next week. City Manager Larry Bierke said the developer of the proposed project has a deadline of Monday to make “a substantial commitment to the property with the property owners.”
“This space has been very valuable tot the school district and is difficult to replace” elsewhere in the school district, said district superintendent Connie Valenza. She called O.E. Gray, however, “a good, accessible space for a public library in the community.”
The O.E. Gray building formerly was the site of St. Mary’s School until it closed in 2012. School board meetings are held in the former O.E. Gray library. Renters of classroom space include Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Forward Wisconsin, and Family Connections.
The school district won’t be able to close off sections of the building because of handicap-access issues. Valenza said classrooms have separate keys, but “we can’t regulate those common spaces. That being said, it is pretty open to the public now.”
The building also has been used for teacher and staff training and meetings, which is what made school board member Eric Fatzinger opposed.
“I would like to see the city look for more alternatives,” he said, calling it “really the only work space we have where we can get people together in a controlled environment.”
Bierke said a building in the city’s industrial park was available, but a site that far south of downtown would require car travel. The city considered the vacant portions of the Municipal Building, but its floors cannot hold the weight of the library’s books. A vacant space in McGregor Plaza is too small, and the old Pioneer Ford site at Pine Street and Water Street “just wasn’t accommodating,” he said.
School board member Heather Connolly noted the partnerships between the library and the school district, and added, “I would hate for those to not be within walking distance.”
The Library Block presently includes the library, the Block, Scott & Heenan Law Offices and Block Apartments, the Neighborhood Health Partners clinic, a dance studio, a real estate office, three houses, and a 16-stall parking lot shared by the library and First English Lutheran Church. Block, Scott & Heenan’s building is the former Cunningham Hospital.
The Library Block project would replace all the buildings on the block bounded by West Main Street, South Chestnut Street, West Pine Street and South Elm Street with a mixed-use development, including a new Platteville Public Library twice the size of the existing library.
The project would include a hotel to the specifications of the GrandStay Hotels chain, student or multifamily housing, a replacement health clinic, “traditional retail,” and 122 underground parking stalls, with 81 of them dedicated to public
use, along with 24 parking stalls in the courtyard of the project.
The most recent estimated timetable of the project’s completion was August 2016, in time for the start of 2016–17 UW–Platteville classes.
The estimated value of the project is $19 million to $21 million. It would replace five properties for which property taxes are assessed. Those five properties have a combined assessed value of $916,400, and combined annual property tax bills of $20,880.93, according to the City of Platteville’s GIS website and Grant County property tax records. The library, the clinic owned by the Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program, and the parking lot are property tax-exempt.
The Library Block was added last year to the city’s Tax Incremental Financing District 7. TID 7 is one of two city TIF districts that had deficits in 2012. The TID 7 expansion was made to pay for an estimated $18.07 million in project work.
The TID 7 changes are for an estimated $18.07 million in project work, including $2 million in parking improvements, $1.95 million in street and sewer improvements, and nearly $7 million from redevelopment projects, to add $42.5 million in new property value by 2023, increasing the district’s property value to $72.09 million by 2023. That in turn is estimated to increase the area’s yearly property tax revenue from $64,000 in 2013 to $1.57 million in 2033.
While the Library Block has a timetable of summer 2016 for completion, another timetable affecting the library’s potential new landlord is the school district’s proposed building project.
The school district is proposing an estimated $18.8 million in construction, including moving fourth grade from Platteville Middle School to Westview Elementary School. That project’s timing is based on the school district’s completing paying for its late 1990s building projects in the school district’s 2015–16 fiscal year.
School district business manager Art Beaulieu asked whether or not the school district would need O.E. Gray space during a building project.
“I don’t think it’s for certain that we’ll have classes without a home,” since the plans are mostly to add space rather than to demolish existing space, said Valenza.