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Rushford Library confined to Tew Memorial Library building

By Kirsten Zoellner

Mon, Mar 5th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Features

After weeks of back and forth debate, on a subject that ultimately spans more than a decade, it appears that the Rushford Public Library not only will not see a new building built downtown, but it will be confined within the existing space of the Tew Memorial Library Building where it currently sits.

Donated to the city in 1923, the building is also the current home of city hall. That, however, will change in the future. By a 4 to 1 vote this past Monday, the council agreed to a three-part motion by Councilor Vern Bunke that would move city hall functions to the vacant former Municipal Liquor Store. The motion also calls for the remodeling of the building so that all city government functions can vacate the Tew Building, leaving more room for the library. The Library Board sees a major problem with this analysis, however.

The Tew building will need extensive and costly remodeling, including the south foundation wall which is in deteriorating condition, and the Library Board feels it will need a 60-foot addition to the west to begin to accommodate the library’s needs. Such an addition would result in the need to move the Veterans Memorial Park currently situated behind the building, the closing of West Rushford Avenue, south of the library, during construction, as well as several other inconveniences. An addition would have to be approved at a later date by the council and it appears would only be begun if funding was in place, including $475,000 in FEMA funding that the city is still hoping for. For now, the library will be confined to its current space.

To use the 1,800 square feet that will be vacated by city hall, the library will also need massive improvements. One of the biggest is load-bearing restrictions on the space. “A library needs 120 pounds per square foot. This room offers 62 pounds per square foot,” acknowledged Library Director Susan Hart. “If you want to get technical, there should only be offices in here, no meetings.” Also an issue is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines, which would require the permanent closing of the east entrance to the library.

Presenting the council with a 5-page document, highlighting the frustrations the board has felt over the past weeks, five potential options for the library’s future, and a final recommendation to the council, board chairman Jim O’Donnell carefully laid out pros and cons of various scenarios.

The document, which generated little discussion amongst the council in comparison to Councilor Bunke’s written motion, first suggested that the city council rescind its previous motion (of February 13) to deny the construction of a new facility and re-launch “a good faith effort” for a new, modern facility, utilizing a $250,000 USDA grant and up to a $1.2 million USDA loan.

A second best option, by opinion of the board, would be the conversion of the empty community center building in Himlie Business Park into a library, as it is the exact square footage required per space studies, has a slab foundation and no load-bearing issues, is ADA accessible, and offers several other perks including being near the proposed site of a new pre-K through 12 school.

There was no discussion of either of these suggestions, other than Bunke deeming the use of the community center building, which may see a future as a business incubator, as “ludicrous.”

The third best option put forth by the board would be the expansion and extensive remodel of the Tew building. Fourth and fifth on the list of recommendations were “do nothing” and moving the library to the Municipal Liquor Store, respectively. The last two options were considered not viable by the library board, based on loss of funding, as well as many ADA and safety issues.

The written motion by Bunke, which initially included seven bulleted items, drew noticeable ire from Mayor Chris Hallum. When handed the motion, which Bunke read aloud, Hallum noted, “I’m not going to accept a motion on something I was just handed.” City Administrator Steve Sarvi suggested the motion be read for informational reason.

“I’m just trying to refine the options,” responded Bunke, “somewhat based on what the library board just gave us. I’m trying to minimize the immediate impact until we know for sure on funding. We’ve waited and waited and waited. If the monies don’t come, there’s going to be a lot more money we’re out. That’s going to really, really hurt a lot of people in town.”

Referring to the first point of the motion, which assigned the library the current facility, Bunke added, “I know it’s not champagne, but it would be very useable. It’s not ideal, but doable.” The library board and Hallum clearly disagreed.

“My concern is that I’ve done several projects like this in my professional experience. It can work, but generally, it doesn’t. It can be done, but it has to survive councils and staff moves. It has to have a life of its own,” offered Sarvi.

Councilor Mark Honsey was particularly uncomfortable with “letter E” of the motion, which restricted funds to current unused FEMA monies, as well as available monies from current and future library board fundraising. “It takes the USDA money out of play and we may need that seed money.”

Hart also made comment regarding the money that’s been pledged through fundraising for a new library, noting that the pledges were raised for a new facility and donors would need to be contacted about supporting a remodel. As of last Tuesday morning, approximately $50,000 in pledges had already been pulled by donors, according to further information from Hart.

Should the city receive approval from FEMA on the $475,000 in funding, it would only be used on an addition to the Tew building and not for remodeling purposes. The city would only be allowed to draw down on the funds once an addition project would be completed.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, March 12, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

To read the Library Board’s complete recommendation to the city, visit www.fillmorecountyjournal.com .

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