At a special meeting last week, the Southwest Public Libraries Board of Trustees turned down two separate proposals and a deadline devised by a majority of City Council members for relocating or upgrading the Grove City branch.

This horse wouldn't even be led to water, let alone take a drink.

At a special meeting last week, the Southwest Public Libraries Board of Trustees turned down two separate proposals and a deadline devised by a majority of City Council members for relocating or upgrading the Grove City branch.

The four council members wrote a letter dated March 20 to Mayor Richard L. "Ike" Stage that outlined two options and established a deadline of Thursday, April 2, for obtaining a decision from library officials.

"The time to lead reluctant or contrary horses to the water trough is over," the letter added.

Library trustees didn't care for what was in the trough.

"We didn't like their options," trustee Kathy Bright said.

"We aren't comfortable wholeheartedly with either one of them," added board member Jill Billman-Royer.

Instead of agreeing to either proposal, trustees said after emerging from a closed-door executive session that they wanted to continue working with a mediator appointed by Stage regarding possibly moving the branch to the proposed lumberyard development behind City Hall after talks were broken off in December.

They also had the library's director, Mark M. Shaw, submit a counteroffer to the mayor.

Stage subsequently submitted a resolution for consideration at the April 6 council session.

The library board's special session was called in response to the letter to Stage that was signed by four of the five council members - Maria C. Klemack-McGraw, Ted A. Berry, Michael Uhrin and Gregory N. Grinch.

Ward 3 Councilman Larry Corbin's name did not appear.

In the letter, a copy of which was forwarded to the trustees prompting the March 25 meeting, the council members outlined two options for the Grove City branch, one of which was not supported by Ward 2 Councilman Grinch.

The option that met the approval of four council members offered a grant of $8-million for the purchase of 40,000 square feet in one of two structures to be built by Stonehenge Co. and Bird Houk Collaborative along Park Street. This was made contingent upon passage of a library levy by May 30, 2011, and specifically stated that no city funds would be used for library operating expenses or to pay for upkeep, utilities, cleaning or renovation of the new facility.

The second proposal, the one that Grinch noted next to his signature that he did not concur with, would offer a grant of $4-million to pay for a minimum expansion of 10,000 square feet to the existing library at 3359 Park St.

Again, passage of a levy was required by the same date and the provisions against spending city funds on operations or upkeep were also imposed.

The letter set the April 2 deadline, adding that "in the event no agreement is reached, then the lumberyard project must immediately resume design and construction without provision for the library."

"Mr. Mayor, please note that this is a final position of the undersigned," the letter stated. "We will entertain no further discussion of alternatives for the library."

After seven library levies have been rejected by voters in the past two decades, trustees felt they could not enter into an agreement contingent upon one being passed, Billman-Royer indicated.

They decided instead, she said, to continue meeting with Bill Habig, the former director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission brought in by Mayor Stage to negotiate with them.

"We felt like the mediation process was going well," Billman-Royer said.

Passing operating levies has always been a difficult proposition for SPL and the Board of Trustees believes that it is not feasible to make the project dependent on passage of such a levy," Shaw wrote to Stage in the wake of the special session.

In his counteroffer, Shaw said that the board would accept many of the provisions of the first option held out by the council members. The March 27 letter included these points:

"SPL will accept $8-million grant toward construction of a new building up to 40,000 square feet in the lumberyard project. The grant would be recognized as the purchase price for SPL's current property located at 3359 Park St.

"Simultaneous with the purchase of our current property by the City of Grove City, SPL will sign a purchase contract with Stonehenge Development for a turn-key, design-build fixed contract for an up to 40,000-square-foot facility as part of Building A of the lumberyard project.

"SPL will keep, for future operating expenses, any funds that remain after construction is completed. For example, if construction costs are $7.5-million, SPL would keep $500,000 to apply toward transitional costs.

"The City of Grove City agrees to pay for all construction costs that exceed $8-million due to unforeseen events during the construction process including but not limited to strikes, changes in prices of building materials, construction delays, and other unforeseen events beyond the control of SPL and/or the contractor. ... However, the fixed-price contract should mitigate most if not all of this risk.

"Execution of an agreement is not contingent on passage of an operating levy within the City of Grove City. It would not be responsible for SPL to agree to a contingency for something over which it would have little or no control such as vote by the public on a tax levy.

"The City of Grove City will place future operating levies on the ballot within Grove City for the benefit of SPL in an effort to assist SPL with operating money

"The City of Grove City will provide free parking for SPL patrons and employees

"The City of Grove City will provide maintenance of the parking garage and the common area within the lumberyard development

"SPL will have final approval of the interior of the new building

"SPL will own the new building and land on which it sits, outright and will lease back the third floor of any building to the City of Grove City for the sum of $1.

"SPL will be responsible for the maintenance of its own building within the lumberyard development.

"SPL agrees that City of Grove City will not be responsible for providing operating funds to SPL other than what is outlined above."

In Stage's resolution, which council members may choose to consider or not, the library panel's counterproposal would be accepted and the council members would authorize the administration to enter into a formal agreement.

Council members would have to give their blessing to that agreement, according to the resolution.

Council President Berry responded to the board's decision not to accept either option as offered in the council letter by saying that concluded the library's potential lumberyard presence, as far as he was concerned.

Berry added that he hoped one day to see a modern library in downtown Grove City, but in his view it won't be part of the current proposed redevelopment.

Berry went on to say that the letter originated with Ward 4 Councilwoman Klemack-McGraw, and that it was then circulated among the others for comments and revisions before a final version was drafted by Council Clerk Tami K. Kelly. Berry said it was his understanding Ward 2 Councilman Corbin was offered an opportunity to also join in signing the letter, but he evidently declined.

"I believe he was asked," Berry said.

Corbin said that Klemack-McGraw showed him an early draft of the communication to Stage and, by extension, the library board.

"I read the letter and said, 'Maria, that's a deal killer. I can't back that at all,' " Corbin said. "I don't believe in ultimatums when you're trying to make a deal."

The councilman added that he was not shown a final draft of the letter, nor was he offered the opportunity to sign it.

"I guess I'm the last man out," Corbin said.

Council President Berry said that after a year and a half of talks with the library's board that he and Klemack-McGraw "were very concerned about just continuing to take more time, continuing to delay the project that needed to be done, so basically that's what started it, was how long do we wait on this."

Mayor Stage, in his cover letter forwarding the March 20 letter from the four council members, wrote that the administration could get behind option one to an extent, but did not favor option two.

In a telephone interview, Stage said that he was troubled by coupling passage of a levy with moving the library to the lumberyard.

"I don't like the part about their having to pass the levy," the mayor said. "I still didn't know how you can force someone to make a contract based on the assumption that a levy was going to pass."

Library board members could not say when they hoped to reach some final decision on moving to a new facility or remaining in the existing one, although they did say they hope to come to some conclusion soon.

"I think we recognize the sense of urgency on the part of the city," trustee Jeffrey Davis said.

The fact the board met in special session in response to the council letter and its deadline is further proof of that, member Richard Curtiss added.

"We really would like to come up with something that works for all of us," Billman-Royer said.