Sculpture, stained glass and textiles will ornament the newly opened Plymouth and Maple Grove libraries next year, over the protest of a Hennepin County commissioner who says it's no time to be spending money on artwork.

The Hennepin County Board voted 6 to 1 on Tuesday to approve the first $60,000 of a $120,000 art purchase for the Plymouth Library.

The vote reflected the county's policy, in effect since 2001, requiring that 1 percent of the money spent for the design and construction of new libraries be spent on public art.

To Commissioner Jeff Johnson, art is "nice but not a necessity," he said. With the county cutting its budget and looking to save money, "I can't imagine that most people would see public art as a top priority of county government."

The 1 percent policy was put in place at the suggestion of County Board Chairman Mike Opat.

"I thought it was important at the time because we build the libraries once every 30 years," Opat said. "These are buildings that are open practically every day of the year to the public. I think they should be pleasant places to go. They should be able to inspire."

Opat said he would not want to spend any more than 1 percent of a library budget on art but he considers the 1 percent reasonable.

Johnson said he will propose that the policy be reversed or frozen.

The Plymouth and Maple Grove libraries, which opened earlier this year, are ''truly magnificent," Johnson said. "One might argue that they are works of art. They both have very creative art incorporated into their design and architecture and, at least in the case of Plymouth, have public art from the previous library on display."

Maybe the art policy made sense in 2001, but "it clearly doesn't make any sense now," he said.

His six board colleagues felt otherwise and approved a $60,000 payment to artist Phil Daniel for stained glass art for three windows on the west side of the Plymouth Library. Daniel created stained glass pieces for the Linden Hills and Wayzata libraries.

A textile artwork will also be purchased for the Plymouth Library, for a total expenditure of $122,000, said Lois Langer Thompson, library director for Hennepin County.

The larger Maple Grove Library has a $220,000 budget for art that will pay for an exterior sculpture and an interior work suspended over the children's reading area, she said.

Art is chosen through a selection process that includes representatives of the County Board, Library Board, Hennepin County Library Foundation and the community in which the library is built.

Artwork enhances buildings and helps make a library a place of culture that promotes literacy, Thompson said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711