By Brett Milam
The Clermont County Public Library Board of Trustees were greeted by another packed house of community members, local officeholders, librarians and teachers at their Nov. 13 meeting, hoping to forestall the potential closing and merger of the village of Batavia library into the Owensville library.
No official resolution has come to pass; as of yet, the potential closure and merger remains exactly that: a potentiality since it was merely a recommendation by those on the building committee and presented by Anthony Cardinal, one of the trustees.
Additionally, no action was going to be taken at the Nov. 13 meeting. The board is still investigating the recommendation and is working with village of Batavia officials on three potential other sites for the Batavia library.
The three sites offered up by the village of Batavia include 289 Main Street, 196 Main Street and the Duke Energy building location at 92 South 4th St.
Joseph Braun, president of the board, also noted the board had received a “private solicitation” to build a new branch on a piece of land on Main Street and Haskell Lane.
However, after more than three hours of hearing concerns and impassioned pleas at the Oct. 16 meeting, the Nov. 13 meeting, instead, served as the first time residents had a chance to hear an extended explanation from the board of trustees on just exactly where they stand at present, post-ROI presentation that had riled up residents.
Common themes that spread throughout the speakers’ comments from that Oct. 16 meeting were, “the Batavia library is a community library,” “it’s a safe place for kids,” “Batavia is a college town, and if you take away the library there, the kids are going to have to go to [the] Union Township [branch] or where to go get their reading material,” and “kids need a library.”
Braun wanted to make a statement before the public discussion began at the Nov. 13 meeting. He started his statement by apologizing to residents, if they felt misled that some action was going to be taken that night.
“I know for instance, that in downtown Batavia, the village chose to put on a marquee that you can ‘save our library by attending tonight’s meeting,'” Braun said. “I will report to you that since our last meeting…we had a sit-down meeting with representatives with officials from Batavia.”
It’s at that meeting where the three sites were presented where the Batavia branch could move to those locations or construct one entirely.
Braun said the costs to retrofit the administrative offices also located at the Batavia branch would be $600,000, which led the building committee to take up a “more holistic analysis” of what a cost would be to make such an investment and do a cost-benefit analysis into investing monies into that site.
From that analysis came the ROI presentation by Cardinal and his recommendation to merge the Batavia and Owensville branches therein at the Oct. 16 meeting.
Braun added that he appreciated the input received from the previous meeting.
“I regret, though, that the discussion that we’re having has led to several things,” Braun said. “I will state that that we do not appreciate people engaging in name-calling and character assassination.”
The ROI presentation has led to a “flurry of activity and allegations and accusations and attacks that just are not necessary,” according to Braun, reiterating that the board is a group of volunteers appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.
“We have looked at this under a microscope,” Braun said, noting that the board doesn’t rush into a decision without being informed.
To that, Braun encouraged residents to continue to engage and send any relevant information.
Those wishing to chime in on the issue are encouraged to do so via written correspondence or by phone. Email information is available at www.clermontlibrary.org/about/board-of-trustees/, and mail can be sent to the trustees at: Clermont County Public Library Board of Trustees, 326 Broadway St., Batavia, OH 45103.
Braun noted one of the things they are trying to figure out is how to maintain a branch with walkability.
M.E. Steele-Pierce, who is on the building committee, but wasn’t at the previous meeting, has listened to most of the recording from the previous meeting.
“I thank all of you who spoke and shared your thoughts and your opinions and spoke to us with both emotion and clarity,” Steele-Pierce said.
The process of looking at the Batavia branch began in 2015, she said, but it was then tabled until February of this year.
Steele-Pierce said people “bristled” at the terminology “ROI.”
“I want to inform you or assure you that that calculation comes from a formula directly from the Ohio Library Council,” she said.
The OLC is the professional organization for all the public libraries in the state.
Brian Vickers, a member of the Batavia village council, spoke up at the meeting.
“Is it no longer the intent of the library board to have a library for every community?” Vickers asked Braun.
Braun said they have no stated policy that that’s the case.
“I think one of the things we focused on is having access to a library within a reasonable period of time and right now, Batavia has four branches within 12 minutes in each direction,” Braun said. “So that’s kinda part of our analysis.”
In meetings with the village of Batavia officials, Braun said it was put to them that there are about 1,500 residents in the village who want a branch they don’t have to drive to.
Patricia Pryor, trustee, was the only trustee at the meeting to offer a glimpse into which way she could be leaning on the issue.
“I hear what you’re saying, I understand what you’re saying and I’m actually fairly in favor of keeping the Batavia branch, but I still need to hear more information about it,” she said. “The one concern I have when we talk about all this, it would be great if everyone in the entire county could walk to a branch, but that’s not possible.”
Pryor added whether there is a future in downtown Batavia that makes the sort of investment needed in a Batavia branch worth it.
Nichols pushed back against the point about downtown Batavia, noting that the village is currently working on two microbreweries, saying, “we got some things going on there.”
“I think it’s seven independent minds that are going to address the issue,” Judith Kocica, vice president of the board, said, pushing back against the idea that the board would vote unanimously along with whatever the building committee recommended.
As for when that decision should come, there is no deadline or timetable, Braun said.
“I would encourage you to continue to follow our agenda and as we get information, obviously we will be talking about it at meetings,” Braun said.