South Fayette to manage Bridgeville's library

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Two local libraries are forming a partnership to save money and boost services.

South Fayette Township Library is set to take over management of the Bridgeville Public Library, under a one-year contract reached by library leadership last week.

Starting Jan. 1, South Fayette will oversee the Bridgeville library staff and handle about $100,000 in state and county funds for Bridgeville's payroll, programming and materials.

Staff at the Bridgeville library will focus on working directly with patrons, while South Fayette will handle behind-the-scenes operations such as cataloging books and running reports, said Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association, or ACLA, the umbrella organization of 44 local libraries.

"This is the first tier of official cooperation," Ms. Jenkins said. "It lays the groundwork for a larger conversation down the road."

After months of discussion, the Bridgeville library board voted 4-1 on Nov. 19 to approve the partnership, following the South Fayette board's unanimous approval in October.

"By working together, we can do so much more," Bridgeville library board president Becky Wisbon said in a prepared statement.

South Fayette library director Rebecca Long will head both libraries, and the Bridgeville staff will become South Fayette employees, South Fayette library board president Robert Milacci said.

He said the arrangement will help Bridgeville afford its library building and allow South Fayette to expand programs and services.

"The expectation is [the contract] will continue on into the future, but it does give us the ability to stop it if it isn't working," Mr. Milacci said.

The Bridgeville library has struggled with funding and reduced hours since replacing its tiny library on Station Street nearly three years ago with a $4 million, 7,800-square-foot building on McMillan Street.

"It's a wonderful facility, and certainly our goal is to help make sure that it remains a viable option as long as possible," Ms. Jenkins said. "This arrangement is showing good faith on the part of the Bridgeville board."

South Fayette has been considering possibilities for expanding its library, which occupies 1,900 square feet in the township building, 515 Millers Run Road, about two miles from the Bridgeville library.

Although the option has been discussed, there is no confirmed plan to relocate the South Fayette library to a proposed civic center in the former Star City Cinemas on Route 50.

Mr. Milacci said the growing township population has increased demand for library services, programs and space, but funding has not kept pace.

"Like everybody, we've got to do more with less tax dollars," he said.

The main source of each library's operating income is a combination of state money, casino table gaming revenues and funds from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, or RAD -- all transferred via the county library association.

This year, South Fayette received $91,836, and Bridgeville received $99,898, through ACLA, Ms. Jenkins said.

In 2014, the South Fayette library will get about $94,981, plus manage an estimated $101,133 on behalf of the Bridgeville library, she said.

The Bridgeville figure includes $80,064 from RAD, $18,144 from the state and $2,925 from table gaming.

The Bridgeville library will continue to be recognized independently in funding formulas, which involve factors such as population, local revenue generated, circulation, computer use and nonresident use, Ms. Jenkins said.

Mr. Milacci said giving South Fayette control of the operational budget reduces the Bridgeville library's overall budget and therefore the amount of money it must spend on circulation materials under state rules. That, in turn, frees up money for the Bridgeville building's mortgage, maintenance and utilities.

"No longer is the Bridgeville library budget held captive by the building itself," he said.

Proceeds from a trust and from fundraising events pay for Bridgeville's building costs, Ms. Jenkins said.

Under the contract, South Fayette receives a modest management fee, calculated as a percentage of Bridgeville's operating budget, Mr. Milacci said.

The two libraries will design their budgets together and make decisions in the coming weeks about staffing, hours of operation and logistics, he said.

Ms. Jenkins said staffing decisions at the Bridgeville library will be part of the "transition process in determining what that community library needs," but that current Bridgeville employees "are the most likely people to be in those positions even with South Fayette running it because they are the ones with local expertise and experience."

In January, the Bridgeville board reorganized with the intent of making the library a regional attraction and extending outreach to nearby townships.

About 20 percent of Bridgeville library cardholders are from South Fayette, and 20 percent are from Collier.

Mr. Milacci said about 60 percent of South Fayette patrons also use the Bridgeville library.

"We think the partnership is going to end up being stronger for both of our communities than each of us standing on our own," he said.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:

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