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Issues of the Environment: New Ypsilanti District Library branch to include a solar array and bird-friendly glass

Ypsilanti District Library-Superior Township Branch
Ypsilanti District Library
Ypsilanti District Library-Superior Township Branch


  • Native, migratory birds are facing monumental challenges to their survival from habitat loss, climate change, and manmade challenges from buildings and pet cats. The US Fish & Wildlife Service states that nearly one billion birds die each year in the United States due to collisions with windows, and research shows that 54-76% of window collisions are fatal. 
  • Washtenaw County is situated at the intersection of two migration flyways—the Atlantic and Mississippi. The area is a "hot spot" for migratory birds and high-risk for window strikes.
  • The Ypsilanti District Library is building a new 7,800 square-foot building to replace the 1,000 square-foot temporary branch. The new library branch that will transform library service to Superior Township and Willow Run neighborhoods. The YDL is committed to protecting the environment and its wildlife, has pledged to make the new library bird-friendly.
  • A combination of millage funds and fundraising is being used to fund the build.
  • In addition to the bird-friendly glass, the library also installed a 46Kw solar array to save energy. They will use their role as a public library to educate and inform users about these two features and the importance of environmental conservation.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And a little later this year, the Ypsilanti District Library will open a brand new branch to the public. It's going to be a 7800 square foot facility aimed at transforming library services to Superior Township and Willow Run neighborhoods. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. Now, you may ask, what does a library have to do with the environment? Fair question. The answer is it's being constructed with environmental and ecological stewardship in mind. Our guest today is Lisa Hoenig. Lisa is the director of the Ypsilanti District Library. And thanks for making time for us today, Lisa.

Ypsilanti District Library executive director Lisa Hoenig
Ypsilanti District Library
Ypsilanti District Library executive director Lisa Hoenig

Lisa Hoenig: Sure, of course. Thank you.

David Fair: When voters passed a new operating millage for the Library District back in 2018, was that the impetus to get this long desired project underway?

Lisa Hoenig: Yes, the library needed to restore itself to physical health following the economic downturn that took place in the 2007-2008 time period because we are largely funded by tax dollars, local tax dollars, and we didn't have the funds to operate such a building. Now that we have the millage, we can operate the building that we're opening.

David Fair: And has the pandemic played any role in either slowing progress on the new building or in the ability to continue with the funding you had planned on?

Lisa Hoenig: The pandemic didn't impact the funding that we've planned on, but the pandemic raised construction costs significantly. That, paired with tariffs that were introduced prior to the pandemic, have increased the budget for the project more than double. So, the library has been trying to fundraise in order to make up the difference.

David Fair: And what kind of difference are we talking about?

Lisa Hoenig: The initial budget was about two and a half million dollars, and today, the budget is about five and a half million dollars. So, it's significant. But, because of the pandemic, we've collected our millage a couple times more than what we had planned. So, the library board has been able to set aside more money than they had originally planned to do. And our $2 million fundraising goal will still get us to where we need to be. We have a little bit more to raise, but we are definitely getting there, and that's a good thing because we're getting closer and closer to opening the building.

David Fair: Well, what the new branch will do is significantly expand available space and services, as the small temporary branch is only about 1000 square feet. But there are a couple of features included that, as I've mentioned, make this an appropriate conversation for Issues of the Environment. At what point was it decided that the new branch would include a 46-kilowatt solar array?

Lisa Hoenig: Well, the solar array was a dream from the beginning. And, again, with the fundraising that we have been doing, we were looking for a significant contribution toward the project that would allow us to continue that dream and make it a reality. And we did find a wonderful donor who helped us make that happen. And we really appreciate that. They chose to be anonymous. But it's happening because of them. And we're very grateful.

David Fair: Is it going to be enough to fully power the branch?

Lisa Hoenig: We don't think so, but it is going to be a significant amount of power. And so, it will help us throughout the year to not only save energy, but save money. And, hopefully, it'll be, you know, give itself a return on investment by the end.

David Fair: And beyond just generating electricity, are there ways that the library will be able to utilize the array for community educational purposes?

Lisa Hoenig: Yep, absolutely. That's one of our big intentions. Superior Township, where we are building, is known for its efforts to preserve green space and is very interested in sustainability. And there are lots of folks who use the library who we will be able to educate about solar and about other issues that are important and that come up in our architecture. And we're really excited about that. We do tours all the time with school kids, and, you know, we're going to have material on hand about how the architecture works. And there will be a display in the library that will show in real time the amount of power being generated. So, we're super excited about all those things.

David Fair: Issues of the Environment and our conversation with Ypsilanti District Library director Lisa Hoenig continues on 89 one WEMU. Now, beyond the solar array, the YDL is committed to protecting migratory birds. Just so happens, Washtenaw County is situated at the intersection of two migration flyways. Unfortunately, being a hotspot for migratory birds means that our houses and our buildings become high risk for birds running into our windows. So, what went into the decision to make the Superior Township branch bird-friendly?

Lisa Hoenig: Well, we have a large building south of Ypsilanti in Ypsilanti Township on Whittaker Road that has huge, towering windows. And we've been educated about the impact of those windows on bird migration.

David Fair: It's having a dramatic impact on bird populations.

Lisa Hoenig: Yes. We really can't do a lot about the existing windows, but we did as we learned about all of this and have been educated. We did commit to making our new library bird-friendly. And so, again, it's going to be a teachable moment. We have this bird-friendly glass that has little etched dots on the outside, two inches apart. It doesn't in any way really deter from your view out of the building. The building doesn't look any different, but you can see those little, little dots, but they don't interrupt your view. But it gives birds some warning that there's glass there. They don't see an uninterrupted reflection, and they don't run into it. So, again, we're really excited to be able to educate people about this and about the hazards of glass for the birds.

David Fair: Yeah. And these kinds of windows are fully endorsed by the Audubon Society. And, of course, their life's all about birds. So, it makes perfect sense. Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Lisa Hoenig on Issues of the Environment. Lisa is director of the Ypsilanti District Library. Now, this new Superior Township branch will be located at 1900 Harris Road. What's going to be done with the small temporary library that's been functioning on MacArthur Boulevard?

Lisa Hoenig: So, the new library is just about a quarter mile away. It's very walkable from all the apartments and the homes that have been coming to the little library. But the small library is in a fire station that belongs to Superior Township, and the township has decided that they are going to use the space there for additional sleeping quarters for the firemen, which is sorely needed.

David Fair: A formal ribbon cutting ceremony is going to be held on Monday, November 14th at 4 p.m., and that's going to kick off a full week of grand opening events. Will we be able to learn about the solar array and the bird-friendly glass during that week?

Lisa Hoenig: You will certainly be able to. We're going to be giving tours of the building throughout that time and moving forward, and you can see them for yourselves when you come.

David Fair: So, in looking beyond the opening and getting up and fully operational, what kind of services and educational opportunities are being planned for the community?

Lisa Hoenig: The library has something for everyone, and all of the kinds of programming and services that we provide at our other libraries will be available at the new library. We're really excited about having meeting space for the first time in Superior as our other building was way too small to really hold events. And so, we'll be able to do all kinds of community programming like art and and STEM workshops for kids and for teens. We have a program called "Learning Never Gets Old" for seniors, 55 and up, and we'll be doing those kinds of programs. We'll be doing things with our community partners like Trinity Health, St Joe's Mercy, and Washtenaw Community College, who have both chosen to be grand opening sponsors for the library. We will be doing things that have to do with health and with economic development, job search, career sort of building, that kind of thing—

David Fair: Truly full service.

Lisa Hoenig: Mm hm. Absolutely. Computers. Internet. Everything that our other libraries offer.

David Fair: So, this is kind of a functional question, but anybody who has ever had to move before always wants to avoid carrying the boxes that have the books in them. As small as the space is that you're utilizing right now, how are you going to get all of those books over to the new facility?

Lisa Hoenig: Well, if the weather is good and favorable for us on October 8th, between two and 4:00, that's a Saturday afternoon, we are going to actually have a big book brigade event where we will pass books hand to hand from the old library to the new. And this really symbolizes what a community effort it has been to get that new library building open. We don't think there are so many books that we wouldn't be able to get it done in 2 hours. But we will need lots and lots of hands to help us make this happen. We're hoping for at least a turnout of 400 people. So, if it's not raining that Saturday afternoon, October 8th, please come.

David Fair: And once open, the Superior Township branch will be open six days a week, which creates even greater access.

Lisa Hoenig: Yes. We will have the same hours at this branch that we have at our downtown Michigan Avenue branch. It'll be a full-service library, and everyone within our district will finally be within a ten-minute drive of a full-service location.

David Fair: Thank you so much for the time today and sharing, Lisa. This is exciting.

Lisa Hoenig: I am super excited to share it with you, and we cannot wait to open on November 14th. Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: We are all looking forward to the grand opening. That is the director of the Ypsilanti District Library, Lisa Hoenig. For more information on the soon-to-open Superior Township Library branch, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. You hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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