It’s not like the city couldn’t have seen these problems coming.
The director of the Lawrence Public Library released information last week showing that the library soon will need more than $1 million in repairs to its roof and to its heating and cooling system. Even though delaying repairs to the roof could endanger library collections and equipment, city officials say that, because the problems were reported after the 2009 budget was completed, those repairs may have to wait until 2010.
This maddening situation is reminiscent of the problems Lawrence is facing with its street system. It should be no surprise to city officials that streets need to be maintained, and yet, the city fell so far behind in its maintenance and replacement schedule that voters were asked last month to approve a sales tax increase to help it catch up.
The library’s heating and cooling system is the original system in the building, which was completed in 1972. The last major work on the library’s roof was done in 1978. Did no one expect that, after 36 years, the heating and cooling system would need to be replaced? Did no one think that the roof might need some major work 30 years down the road?
Library officials have had two engineering firms look at the roof. One said it could last for another five years before experiencing serious problems. After infrared testing was done to assess the condition of the concrete under the roof, another engineering firm said the work should be done sooner. Costs to do the work ranged from $300,000 to $500,000. The cost of replacing rooftop heating and cooling units and air-handling units in the basement is estimated at about $572,000.
Library officials should have alerted the city to problems with the library structure sooner, but the idea that the city had set aside no funds to deal with such long-range maintenance issues is troubling. The fact that plans to replace the library had been discussed in recent years is no excuse. The city should have been setting aside money for such long-term repairs. If officials and voters had decided to build a new library, that funding could have been moved forward to the replacement building.
Because the money isn’t there, the city now is gambling its investment in library materials and equipment on the odds that a deficient roof will hold out for another year or until it can include funds in a budget to replace it. That puts a major taxpayer investment in jeopardy because officials didn’t plan ahead for completely predictable repair projects.
Taxpayers have a right to be upset.