Litchfield Library Answers Questions On New Building

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Members of the Litchfield Public Library District Board held a public forum on Thursday, July 28, in hopes of answering some of the questions and criticisms the group has received regarding the new library project, which began with a search for a spot two years ago and continued with several meetings and hearings in early 2016.

Simply put, the library is in need of more space. Books are stacked in every conceivable spot, with even more put away in storage. More space is also needed for the children's library, which has grown to staggering levels of  popularity in the last few years, with some activities drawing more than 200 participants.

Members of the board would try to address some of the worries that the community had expressed about the project, which will feature almost double the space (12,000 square feet), better accessibility (all on one level), separate children and teen libraries, improved technology and better parking.

Among the questions were what will happen to the old Carnegie Library. Board member Vickie Lovellette said that the building is on the National Historical Registry and the board is confident that the city will find a use for the building.

It was also asked who is qualified to help undergo the transition to this new building. Board member Mary Schneider said that Library Director Sara Zumwalt has been involved with the library since 1993 and has overseen the magnificent growth of the library and the children's program, which has gone from 30 kids in the summer of 1993 to 140 in 2016.

Schneider added that Zumwalt is a member of the Illinois Heartland Library System Board of Trustees and has been on the planning commission for the State Library three times. It was also noted that board member Mark York was on the library board in Bement when they underwent a construction project.

Supervision of the teen room was brought up, with Schneider saying that with the new library's open floor plan, supervision of the teen room (which will have glass walls) and the computer area will be easier than at the current facility.

Other questions asked included the distance to walk for school children (a 2015 study said 95 percent of the patrons drive), is the library going to be on the Community Center soccer fields (no), is the library going to be near the medical marijuana grow facility (no, it is a great distance away, in the Rt. 66 Industrial Park) and the opinion that the library should spend the money on programs that will benefit the city. The answer to the last question from board member Lynn Lanter was that the city did not have the space to host programs like this, but the new building would allow them to do so.

The center of the opposition to the new library revolved around one main point though... cost.

One comment questioned why the board would build a new library in this depressed economy and when people are reading more electronically than anything else.

Nancy Dressen-Krefft said that the definition of the library has changed and that Litchfield Library does not just offer books, but also offers programs, technological services and many other services that do not fit the "library" mold of 100 years ago (or even 50 years ago).

Dressen-Krefft added that the library will be a good draw for those considering a move to Litchfield and shows the support of the community for knowledge.

Many of the questions asked how the board said that it would not raise taxes to pay for the building, which is estimated to cost between $1.5 and $1.7 million dollars. Board member Carol Sneed said that the library's current budget is enough to cover the mortgage and upkeep for the new building. She added that there is no guarantee that the library won't raise its tax ever again, but currently, their budget provides enough for the new building.

Sneed also spoke about the computer lab, saying that the community deserved a place to utilize new technology and that the new library would be that place.

After almost an hour of answering the questions that had been posed to them over the last few weeks, the board turned the forum over to the public. Prior to the board's presentation, approximately 22 of the just over 100 in attendance signed up to ask questions.

Of those 22, ten opted not to address the board, either having their questions answered or for some other unknown reason.

For those who did talk, five asked further questions. Martha Jackson reiterated the concern that the library would have to raise money for maintenance of the building. Zumwalt said that the budget for the building and maintenance fund should be sufficient and added that the new building would eliminate the library's current elevator maintenance contract, a costly item.

Zumwalt added that the furniture from the old library will be brought to the new facility and that the district had received a Kilton grant for other expenses.

Another in attendance asked if the board had considered just renting/building space to have a separate children's library, saying that the noise from the children was an issue at times.

Zumwalt said that the board had looked at that, but it would be nearly double the cost due to the need for additional staff and utility costs. She added that many families also use the library, with children going to their section, while their parents find a book of their own.

Zumwalt said that the new children's library will be closed off from the other sections, hopefully helping with the noise issue.

Litchfield Mayor Steve Dougherty also spoke about the library, starting by thanking the volunteers of the library board for their hard work. Mayor Dougherty then stated that the city had spent a great deal of money on the streetscape improvements and that the Chamber of Commerce had spent money to fix the fountain in front of the library.

He added that he felt like the library was the anchor of downtown and that he did not hear any problems with space or other concerns when the city was doing work around the library.

Mayor Dougherty said that the city will have a hard time filling the old library building and that there were empty buildings across the street and downtown that might have been a viable option for extra space.

He also said that the comments that the library can't be added on to because it is a historic landmark aren't true and that only means that federal or state funds can't be used on the project.

In closing, Dougherty said that he couldn't say anything when the library board came to the city at the planning commission or zoning board or city council meetings, but he felt that the two groups should work together better in the future.

The majority of those who spoke praised the idea of the new library. From the increased sense of community to the increased accessibility and safety, eight individuals spoke in favor of the project, including teachers from the Litchfield School District and Zion Lutheran School, parents, library employees and patrons, young and old.

One resident said that he had lived in Litchfield for 82 years, in which time he had seen schools, businesses, churches and more built in his hometown.

"How many of you would live in Litchfield if we didn't have the foresight to modernize then," he asked.

Many of the speakers also praised Zumwalt, who has been a huge asset for the library in her two decades of employment according to the board and many of the patrons.

The forum would come to a close more than an hour and a half after it began. Whether or not any minds were changed is up to the individuals. For those who still have concerns about the library, the board said it was welcome to answer any questions anyone else had.

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