The Madison Finance Committee voted in September to refer their decision on funding the Reindahl Imagination Center, a proposed new library that will fill a gap in civil resources and expand play-based learning programs.
But few residents know what the Reindahl Imagination Center is or why it’s being built.
The Reindahl Imagination Center would be located in the Reindahl Park on the east side and include a library, a community center and spaces for other city, county and state agencies.
Additionally, the center would provide civic resources and a place for learning and collaboration. It would serve as Sandburg Elementary’s public library, the only school in the Madison Metropolitan School District without a companion facility.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway included the $16.6 million project on the Horizon List of the 2020 Executive Capital Budget, a new system she created to track various projects that need more planning before the city can properly fund them.
The plans for a new library on the east side have been in development for almost five years, though the Imagination Center is a new, added aspect of that same plan.
In 2015, the Madison Public Library reached out to see what the community wanted for its library. In 2016, the library released a report with a plan for a northeast side "Imagination Center," which would include the same services as the currently proposed project.
Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, created a poll on his blog urging Madison residents to reply with their own ideas for what the center should be.
The post generated an underwhelming fifteen responses, including comments such as “no,” “idk,” “I see no need for an imagination ctr” and “Don't know what the Imagination Center is.”
Another anonymous user responded more directly to the Alder’s question.
“You had better do something to tell more of us what the ‘Imagination Center’ is,” they wrote. “I tend to pay attention to what is going on around here, however, I don't know [anything] about your Imagination Center.”
While the Madison Public Library claimed to have conducted meetings and community outreach to inform the public on the project, many residents have not heard of its recent plans.
At the September Finance Committee meeting addressing amendments to the 2020 executive budget, attendee John Becker spoke in opposition to an amendment that would fund the Reindahl Imagination Center.
“Today, I found out from our Alder at four o’clock that these amendments were coming forward,” Becker stated. “There [are] no regular neighborhood meetings, so what’s coming before you today nobody knows about.”
Becker explained to the committee that the public had no say in deciding the location for the center.
He also noted that a different parcel of land near Reindahl Park would be “more appropriate” for a library, instead of the public park itself. He added that a library would take away from an already limited amount of green space.
Ald. Baldeh and Ald. Harrington-McKinney, District 1, still pushed for the addition of the Reindahl Imagination Center to the 2020 budget.
“When you’re talking about the Imagination Center, what I see is the possibility of creating space on the east side,” Harrington-McKinney said. “There is a beautiful space over there and something should be there. There is a good-faith effort that has been going on since 2010 and [we’re] telling residents that ‘It’s coming. It’s coming.’ When is it coming?”
Ald. Baldeh agreed the plan for the center should be approved.
“If we are talking about equity and fairness and access to services in the city, this is project number one that we should finance,” he said.
For now, funding for the project is undecided. Mayor Rhodes-Conway said the Imagination Center will be reevaluated in the future.
The Finance Committee will decide on the specifics of the project’s finances on Nov. 12.