Prairie du Chien Memorial Library’s growing needs call for an expansion

The Board of Trustees for the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library commissioned an assessment of the space needs and current building’s condition in the fall of 2013. The analysis has shown that the library is in need of many interior and exterior updates as well as an expansion doubling its size. A capital campaign to raise funds for such a project is getting underway and seems generally supported by the city council. The council has challenged the fundraising committee to raise half the funds of an expansion, though costs have not been determined yet, as design proposals are needed. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

Prairie du Chien community members may have heard rumblings on the street about the prospect of expanding the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library. Well, the talk is true. In August of last year, the library’s Board of Trustees commissioned an assessment of space needs as well as the existing facility’s condition. The board learned that its current 50-year-old structure is in good overall condition, is much smaller than one for a population of a similar size city, is in need of more dedicated spaces, and should double in size.

“We have about 5,800 square feet right now and the survey indicates we need 12,000,” Board President Linda Munson said. “We have a lot of good reasons to stay on the current site: it’s close to the schools, City Hall and the downtown; the current building is in good enough shape that it can accommodate an addition; and there’s the water fountain and a lot of history in that location too.”

One of the biggest questions the public might have when pondering a project like this is how much a bigger and better library is going to cost. However, a design rendering is needed first before figures can be calculated. Munson said design proposals are expected in April, and finalized architectural drawings are going to take additional time. According to City Administrator Aaron Kramer, the library’s Board of Trustees has been challenged by the city council to raise half the funds for the expansion before the city seeks bonds for the project in 2017. A capital fundraising committee is in the process of forming at this time. Also, the Crawford County Community Fund extended a $1,000 grant to the library board for use in its planning of the project.

In a world that’s evolving technologically every day, some who believe a library only offers books and other concrete reading materials may wonder why a larger space is needed. According to Munson, Kramer and Library Director Nancy Ashmore, a larger library provides much more than just hard copy materials. It gives patrons of all ages and interests a place to address their Internet needs, check out movies and e-readers, study or relax with a newspaper quietly, research history and genealogy collections, view public educational displays, examine materials in small groups, conduct private tutoring and interviews, participate in meetings, enjoy after-hours activities, and more. These needs have been identified not only on a national spectrum but also locally through public information meetings, individual interviews, surveys and strategic planning sessions. Those weighing in on their desires have included library staff; board members of the library, city and county; other county program staff; and several stakeholders such as teachers, home-schooling parents and various business owners and groups.

“Look at any viable city in the U.S. Their libraries are a central place for the community,” Kramer said. “This (topic) has been discussed in meetings casually for years, but not to the point of a space needs analysis until recently. For up to 15 years, there have been attempts to get a project like this off the ground. It’s time.”

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been,” Ashmore added. “There’s a great demand for the Internet. Everything is online.” For example, information related to Social Security benefits, the Affordable Care Act, and resumes and employment materials often require online access and filing.

Just as any building that’s half a century old would be, the antiquated facility has its own issues that need attention. The building was constructed in 1963, the entryway was remodeled in the 1990s and a new roof was added in 2010. Yet, present needs are for handicapped accessibility, energy efficiency and placement of electrical connections (outlets, cables) inside the library. On the exterior, maintenance needs include sidewalk repairs, lighting and insulation upgrades, drainage issues, and the scheduled replacement of the HVAC unit, among other items.

The structure itself appears to be in generally good shape; however, Ashmore said, it could not sustain a second floor. The library board prefers to keep a larger library to just one level anyway. If the need for a second level ever arose, it would have to be added to the expanded portion of the facility.

“We can always go up,” Ashmore said, noting that there is plenty of existing space to be utilized on the current property. Also, interestingly, the fountain is anticipated to be incorporated into the new design with enhancements.

Cameron Aslaksen Architects, of Reedsburg, is the company chosen from about a dozen bids that completed last fall’s library assessment. The steering committee selecting the company included Munson, Kramer, Ashmore, Curt Smith, Terry Meyer, Garth Frable, Angela Yunder, Jean Titlbach and members of the library board. The intent of the analysis was to provide the board with the information it needs to decide the direction of the library’s future.

According to Munson, most expansions last between 30 and 50 years, so this project has the potential to meet the demands of community members for a number of generations to come.

“The needs of the community have changed and it’s our time to change with them,” Ashmore said. “We have more modern needs and we need to expand our abilities.”

Kramer agreed. “Back in 1963, a group of well-meaning individuals took a generous donation and made a gift of a new library for future generations. It’s our time to step up and make a contribution for the next 50 years of patrons,” he stated, also pointing out that an improved library will add to the quality of life for area citizens.

In seeming support of the expansion, the city council has taken steps, but not yet finalized, plans to change traffic flow on South Wacouta Avenue to one way heading north and also create diagonal parking on the west side of the street in front of the library. This is expected to create about eight new parking spaces by the library, another need that has been determined for the facility.

The next courses of action for the library board are to evaluate the design proposals from Cameron Aslaksen in April and continue fundraising and information-gathering. In the meantime, of course, the community will continue to enjoy the wonderful services the current library offers.

“We’re very happy with what we have and we make good use of what we can,” Ashmore said. “I would just love to see patrons be able to do more of the things they want to do in our library.”

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