Verdi Library Background (RGJ Story)

Reno Gazette Journal recently published the following story about the Verdi Library (originally avialable here):

Plans to close two public libraries because of budget cuts could actually cost Washoe County agencies up to $450,000 for breaking grant contracts requiring the libraries stay open many more years.

The question is: Will the county be held to its promises for Duncan/Traner and Verdi libraries?

The Washoe County School District built the Verdi Community Library and Nature Center 15 years ago using $200,000 in state grant money, agreeing to keep it open to the public until 2042, according to the district’s agreement with the Nevada Department of Wildlife obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Early closure could constitute violation of the agreement and allow the Wildlife Department to “be entitled to recover monies” from the district equal to its $200,000 contribution, according to the contract.

The district also built Northeast Reno’s Duncan/Traner Library in 1997 using $250,000 in grant money from the city of Reno. The district agreed to maintain the building as both a school and public library until 2097, according to the Community Development Block Grant between Reno and the district obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Both libraries are threatened with closure by the end of the year, but not at the hands of the school district. Although the district runs these libraries solely for school students during weekdays, the buildings double as public libraries operated by the Washoe County Library System during evenings and weekends.

Library System Director Arnie Maurins is pursuing plans to close these libraries to the public by the end of 2015, violating the grant terms. The libraries would stay open for students of nearby schools.

“I’m optimistic that something could be worked out, that we could make the case that times have changed, and it doesn’t make sense to keep them open as public libraries anymore,” noted Maurins, who said he’s hopeful city and Wildlife officials will not claim contract violation and fight the library closures. “I’m hoping we could carry the day with our argument.”

Maurins’ argument: The libraries are underused. Closure would free up the equivalent of two full-time employees for expanded hours and services at nearby libraries, he said.

Officials for the city of Reno and state Wildlife Department aren’t saying whether they’d pursue repayment of $450,000 in total grant money or litigate to keep the libraries open.

“We would absolutely ask that the obligation be fulfilled for the library,” said Kim Toulouse, volunteer program director for the Wildlife Department. His office is located within the Verdi Community Library and Nature Center, which consists of a library connected to the state-operated nature center and wildlife trail.

Toulouse said the state has not received any “formal notification” from the library system requesting closure of the Verdi library and therefore can’t say whether the state will seek repayment of the $200,000 or take legal action.

“It’s not a snap judgment we’d make,” said Toulouse, noting that legal counsel would have to be consulted.

Reno officials responded in similar manner, noting that the city “supports the continued delivery of library services” at the Duncan/Traner Library, according to acting Community Development Director Alex Woodley.

He wouldn’t say whether the city would seek a return of the $250,000 grant if the library system follows through with closure plans.

“It is too soon to speculate on any action as the city has not met officially with the Washoe County School District or library system,” Woodley said in a statement.

City Councilman Oscar Delgado took a different stance.

“I will do all that I can in my power to make sure the library stays open,” said Delgado, who represents the area of Reno containing Duncan/Traner Library and argues it’s a needed service for the poor community.

However, Delgado doubts the city will have to threaten litigation or force grant repayment to keep the library open.

“I know the community is very sensitive to this and will come out in force to make sure their voices are heard,” he said. “This conversation should never take place again.”

Closure could be avoided by alternative means, Maurins said Monday.

He’s meeting with the Northern Nevada Literacy Council to see if its volunteers could help operate the Duncan/Traner Library after school hours. He also plans to hold a workshop with community members to see what additional services could be offered at the library to increase visitors.

When Maurins announced his closure plans on June 17, he said the library system would “certainly not go forward with terminating either library” if it means repayment of thousands of dollars in grant money.

Litigation over grant contract violations would be a messy situation. Although the library system is operating the public libraries and planning to close them, it never signed any contracts for $450,000 in grants. And it did not agree to keep the libraries open for a certain time period.

The school district signed to those terms and would likely be held responsible for repayment.

“The question is, can the school district sue the county library system,” Maurins said. “I have to sit down with the legal folks.”

The school district hasn’t indicated how it would respond to the proposed closures, putting it in the hot seat, and declined the Gazette-Journal’s interview request.

“The school district has not yet been included in the current discussions regarding the future of the community library,” said the district in a statement provided to the Gazette-Journal.

The district emphasized that the libraries would remain open to district students during school, fulfilling its “part of the agreement.”

The Duncan/Traner Library serves students of Duncan Elementary and Traner Middle schools.

Closure could prove messier for the Duncan/Traner Library.

Although Reno gave $250,000 for construction of Duncan/Traner Library, the money is federal, coming from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The federal department could become involved if contract violation occurs. But that’s unlikely, according to spokesman Ed Cabrera.

“The issue is more one for the city to deal with,” said Cabrera, noting that the federal department is not party to the grant agreement in question. “It’s really an agreement between the city and its subcontractor.”

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