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A drive past Jefferson Street near the heart of Spring Valley's downtown may just cause a double take these days. The familiar gray building on the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets once housed a thriving grocery business, but in more recent years has been vacant. The lack of upkeep combined with the elements of time and weather had begun to take its toll on the once high-traffic location. But passers-by are beginning to see a transformation to the property, which could give a boost to the vitality of the downtown business district. The site is slated for Spring Valley's new public library. Gone is the shaggy, overgrown shrubbery that crept along the walls and over sidewalks. The old retaining wall is being demolished to make room for a sturdier, more aesthetic wall that, when completed, will blend seamlessly into the landscape. The old loading dock to the back of the building where semis used to unload their cargo has been converted into what will eventually become a comfortable reading area for adults. Wood framework is reshaping the flat roof and large, concrete beams have been erected to create what will become the library's new entryway.
It's a project that's been a long time in coming, according to David Foster, President of Spring Valley's Library Board for the past three years. "It's taken us way too long to get started," said Foster about Spring Valley's desire to build a larger, more user- friendly facility. Talk about expansion actually began some 25 to 30 years ago, according to Foster who said the town's small Carnegie Library hasn't been able to keep up with the demands of more users and advances brought about by technology. The main reason? Space. The quaint, historic structure only has 1,650 square feet of space. Perhaps ample in its hey day, today Spring Valley's library has become cramped and out of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The facility rests on a picturesque patch of land alongside Spring Valley Creek. An attractive location, yes, but it's located in a flood plain. Flooding throughout the years, in particular the past two years, has caused severe damage and loss of furniture, books and research materials and has forced library staff to abandon use of the facility's basement. The historic Carnegie Library will remain in the City's possession and house City Hall offices once the new library facility is up and running.
So why has it taken so long to begin construction on a new library? Over the years, there has been no major public support for such a facility, according to Foster. That is until about a year ago when community volunteers from Spring Valley, Wykoff and Ostrander joined forces to kick off a capital campaign to raise funds for a new library. Assisted by a professional campaign fund raising company, Saterback and Associates, the campaign team chose the slogan REACT for Renew & Expand A Community Treasure. That slogan not only helped secure donations, but raised awareness as to the important role a library plays in a community. "It seemed to set the tone for the campaign and became the rallying cry," said Dan Anderson, who headed up the campaign's Communications Task Force. It may have taken 30 years, but the REACT campaign really seemed to have a galvanizing effect on community support and volunteerism.
The campaign team, led by Spring Valley businessman Lee Himle, planned to get in contact with all area residents asking for their support. "It is our intention to try to talk to everyone personally about their investment into this area resource," Himle told attendees at the standing-room only kick-off party conducted at the Spring Valley Community Center last March. That night would become a clear indication of the library project's future. The evening's event was culminated when the campaign team revealed that more than $880,000 had already been pledged toward the $1 million goal. Over the next several months, more pledges poured in totaling nearly $1.2 million, an amount that had to put even the most diehard naysayers at a loss for words. To date, more than $700,000 in pledges has been collected. The remainder is expected to be paid over the next three to five years, as contributors were given the option to spread their donation over several years, according to Foster. With a bid of $819,572, which covers basic construction costs and not furniture, fixtures, and completed landscaping, Nelson Construction from Caledonia, Minnesota was awarded the job and has been on the Jefferson Street site since groundbreaking on November 6. So has Foster, who in addition to his role as Library Board President, is the library board's resident construction expert.
Foster, who owns his own construction business, appears to have been hand picked for this role. He understands the ins and outs of working with architects, and with crews of construction workers and sub contractors. But he has other reasons for his role on the library board. "I want to see this project happen," he said. "There have been five generations of library users in my family and I realize the value and importance a library has in a community," he said. Foster also recognizes the value of hiring top-notch designers. "We have one of the best architects in the country designing our library," said Foster. Designed by Durrant, a company from Dubuque, Iowa, the new 9,052 square-foot-facility will feature a large children's reading and activity area; staff work areas; an adult reading room, with an adjoining area where readers can enjoy a cup of coffee; a meeting room open to area groups and organizations; study areas and computer bays. "When you want to build a hospital, you should hire a company that specializes in hospitals. For our project, it made sense to go to a company that specializes in library design," said Foster.
In addition to the monthly construction meetings Foster attends, it's not uncommon to see him walking throughout the site, keeping tabs of the crew's progress. Like most area residents, the construction crew at Spring Valley's new library site is waiting for better weather. "They've pretty much completed all the demolition work -- the entry way masonry work is completed, the stripping of the exterior walls and the insulation is done," Foster said. When weather permits, crews will go gangbusters to complete the roof. "In this climate we just have to let nature take its course," said Foster, who hopes the crew will be able to complete inside electrical, heating and ventilation work soon. "When the roof is done -- they can hit the inside real hard," he said.
With Spring Valley's library scheduled for completion September 1, 2001, he's also well aware of the importance of deadlines and schedules. Even with the lingering winter, Foster doesn't seem too concerned. "Things are coming together just fine," he said.
Whether or not area residents have been able to donate toward the project, Foster hopes to see everyone use what has become known as Spring Valley's latest treasure. "I look forward to seeing everyone at the grand opening in the fall."