Will Birmingham residents approve $22.5 million library expansion?

Critics say proposed expansion at Baldwin Public Library is fiscally irresponsible

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – Everyone agrees the Birmingham Baldwin Public Library desperately needs an upgrade, but the scope of that upgrade, well, that's where the plot thickens.

"Completely tear down the building and replace it with a $22.5 million Taj Mahal of libraries, to me it doesn't make financial sense," said Brad Coulter, of Citizens for Responsible Spending.

Stuart Jeffares, of Birmingham Strong, said sometimes you just need to start fresh.

"Sometimes it's easier to knock down and start anew. It's a cheaper, better value," he said.

The plan is to tear down additions built in the 1960s and 1980s and replace them with 16,000 square feet of additional space. The cramped youth section would increase by 70 percent.

Eight multimedia collaborative study areas would arrive, replacing small study rooms.

"Having rooms with collaboration. They're having rooms where you can have a study group and half of your group's in India, or China, or some place like that," said Jeffares. "We can't do any of that right now."

A renovation plan to fix deficiencies on a smaller scale 3 years ago cost just $3 million. This latest plan is seven times costlier, rivalling library expansions in Southfield and Bloomfield Township.

"Our kids will compete with those kids in the world. Do we wanna give our kids the same advantages or do we not give them the same advantages?" said Jeffares.

Coulter doesn't like it from a fiscal stance.

"They don't mind paying a premium to live in Birmingham but they're not going to pay an unnecessary tax increase to build for irresponsible spending," he said.

The .77 mil, 20-year levy will cost the average homeowner $124 a year.

It's a tight race.

Critics are upset with the timing, believing that a special election in May is an attempt to bring it in under the radar. Proponents claim by approving now and selling bonds in July they'll save the city $1 million.

The political drama will come to a climax next Tuesday.