West Ada

It’s election day—and Meridian Library is asking voters to ok more library funding

In 1997, with a population of 34,000, the only library Meridian owned was its main library on Cherry Lane.

In 2019, with a population of more than 100,000, Meridian still owns just one library: Cherry Lane.

Even as the city’s population has tripled, voters have not passed any new funding measures since 1995 that would allow the library to expand. Instead, it has leased out spaces that it has quickly outgrown.

On Tuesday, May 21, the Meridian Library District will ask voters to authorize a $14 million levy to pay for new branches, including:

  • An expansion to the library’s tech branch and maker space, unBound, in 2020.

  • A 15,000-square-foot branch in the Linder Village development in North Meridian in 2021.

  • Renovations (but no expansions) and parking improvements to the Cherry Lane library in 2024.
  • A 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot branch in South Meridian in 2025.

The tax would cost property owners $12.10 per $100,000 of taxable property value each year. To pass, 55% of Meridian voters must support the levy.

Renovation of the main library on Cherry Lane would include the 27,600-square-foot main building and its 1,840-square-foot annex. The parking lot would be redesigned. Darin Oswald Darin Oswald

“In Meridian, our residents would prefer to have branched libraries closer to home,” said Library District Director Gretchen Caserotti. “People don’t have to travel as far to their branch, and it allows children to walk and bike to the library.”

For the past several years, the district has asked voters to approve funds for new branches. In both 2015 and 2016, Meridian asked voters to authorize $12 million in bonds. While both proposals received the support of a majority of voters, they did not reach the supermajority of 66.7% required to pass a bond.

Unlike bonds, levies allow a city to build new facilities without incurring debt. But while bonds allow a city to pay for new construction immediately, levies last for 10 years and build up money over time.

The library district is asking for $14 million in the levy, $2 million more than it had requested in the recent bonds. That’s because the district has to factor in that construction costs are increasing every year, Caserotti said.

The last time the library passed such a bond was in 1995. That allowed the district to build its Cherry Lane library.

Josh Cummings and Carolyn Sinnard are Realtors who are co-chairing a “Vote Yes” committee for the library bond.

“Rich, poor, the library is an equal opportunity educator,” Cummings said in a telephone interview. “The fact there hasn’t been a funding measure in over 20 years … indicates that we’re playing catch-up.”

For Sinnard, libraries are about far more than just books — they are also hubs for technology and community classes.

“We firmly believe that healthy communities are built on strong library systems,” she said.

While visiting Teenspace at the Meridian Library after school, Amber Bell, 12, left, holds up her drawing on plastic during a Shrinky Dink craft project with Chandler Ston, 13, and Takya Sanabria, 12, right. Program specialist Pamela Hay, back, helps the teens with heating the Shrinky Dinks, which are polystyrene shapes that shrink and harden when heated. Darin Oswald Darin Oswald

Between 2013 and 2018, attendance at library programs tripled, from 38,500 to 121,000, and checkouts were up 49%, from 1 million to 1.6 million. But as usage increases, Meridian’s libraries have struggled to find adequate space to grow.

In 2009, the district opened a Silverstone branch, nestled in a 4,500-square-foot leased space in the Silverstone Business Park.

“It’s very small for such a busy space,” Caserotti said. “Not being the building owner, we don’t get to control things like adding study rooms. We don’t have a dedicated space for children’s programs.”

The developer of Linder Village, at Linder Road and Chinden Boulevard, has included plans to build a new branch there, near a future WinCo. The library district has not yet determined whether it will lease the building or enter into a lease-to-own agreement, but Caserotti said the district’s goal is to own its buildings.

We want to have strategically located points within the community, and we want to own and operate those facilities for stability into the future,” Caserotti said.

The library’s tech branch, UnBound, has also suffered from lack of space. Its downtown Meridian location, at 713 Main St., crammed 3D printers in a corner in the front and a tight audio recording studio in the back. Library workers sat side-by-side with library visitors. Without even a private place to store an employee coffee machine, the staff decided to make coffee free for all.

UnBound was forced to close in February to make way for Pacific Cos. and Josh Evarts’ coming apartment and retail project, which will take over the block.

In April, the library district announced that it had bought a new building for unBound downtown at 722 E. 2nd St. The district paid $415,000 for the 3,800-square-foot, two-story building, which must be renovated to meet handicap accessibility requirements. Until then, some of unBound’s equipment will be available for use at Cherry Lane.

That building has been bursting at the seams for years. Library staffers work out of converted closets, with desks pressed close together. Bookshelves are crammed with volumes, with some books that can’t be shelved relegated to an annex. Furniture in the popular teen area has been arranged and then rearranged in various efforts to make more space.

While the library was able to buy the new unBound building with general capital funds from this budget year, it is limited in saving money from its yearly budget to pay for new buildings. With an annual budget of $5.6 million, the district is forced to turn to the voters to authorize a bond or a facilities levy, in which voters agree to tax themselves a certain amount each year for a set amount of time.

If voters approve the $14 million levy, they will collectively be taxed $1.4 million each year for 10 years. That means that even as the city grows, the district will not collect more tax — rather, the $1.4 million will just be spread out over a larger taxable base.

The Meridian Library District is setting up a foundation so it can receive charitable donations. However, Caserotti said philanthropy is not a long-term, sustainable funding option for new branches. She hopes that a foundation could help fund new public art or improvements that aren’t within the district’s budget.

At the end of the day, we’re being as frugal as we possibly can,” she said.

Meridian’s vote comes as Boise city officials are making plans to replace Boise’s main library with an $85 million one. A citizens group has petitioned to put that before city voters in November. The certification of the petitions’ signatures is pending.

Early voting in Meridian opened on May 6 and ended Friday, May 17.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.