Preliminary discussions on building a new home for Evans Public Library in Vandalia are just that – preliminary.
Library district officials said recently that they have “discussed, from time-to-time, the possibility of building a new library.”
But, they emphasize, those discussions have been only part of their long-term planning process.
Indeed, library officials have been talking with Vandalia Park District officials about using some park district land for a new facility, and the two are discussing how that could happen.
But, as they explained their long-range plans to park district officials at a recent park board meeting, library officials emphasized that construction is not planned for any time in the near future.
“We’re talking maybe 10 years, maybe 15 years, maybe more,” library board President Marti Bingham told park board members.
“We are just in the infant stages,” Bingham told The Leader-Union recently.
And, library officials said at one of their recent meetings, discussions on building a new structure is nothing new.
“As long as I’ve been on this board, we’ve been talking about a new building,” Bingham said.
Those discussions are ongoing, library board members said, because of several issues.
Those include the condition of the current building, a growing base of library users and changing needs of library users.
In a joint statement, library board members noted that their considerations have included “A 50-year-old building with an achaic heating and air-conditioning system, insufficient space for additional computers or books, inadequate parking, inadequate restrooms, inadequate acoustics, inadequate wiring, inadequate meeting room space and the fact that the library is landlocked.”
Stressing to park board members that the library board’s plan to build a new structure is a ways down the road.
“We don’t have the money right now,” Bingham told the park board.
“We’re a long way from seeing this come to fruition,” she said, telling park board members that the library board has not even gone so far to get any cost estimates.
She explained that it’s difficult for the library board to meet the needs of its population base, and that that base is growing.
“We’re already too small for the population for the (Vandalia) school district area,” she said, explaining that the population was estimated at slightly below 12,000 in 2000, and projected to grow as high as 14,000 by 2025.
“There is no way for us to expand,” Bingham said, adding that the library board has to be concerned about what it is required to provide, and how to provide it.
“Libraries have different requirements than a lot of buildings, and we have to meet those requirements,” she said.
As it has worked on long-range plans for a new building, library board members have talked about how the construction of that building would be funded.
Thus, the decision to go to an consultant.
“It was a responsible thing for us to do, to get the best advice that we can get, ” Bingham said.
Library board members are hopeful that they can acquire some grant funding down the road, and the consultant, Bingham said, “tells us what we need to do to apply for grants.”
Also, she said, the library board cannot go after grant funds without any building plans in its hands.
“We are strictly in the infant stages of this,” Bingham said. “Our consultant has simply outlined a process, and it’s a process that we can stop at any time.”
As they’ve initiated the process, Dr. Melanie Schaafsma said, library board members have taken a look at other libraries, “to get ideas, to look at the good and the bad at other facilities.”
Board member Chuck Hutson added, “Our library is becoming more and more obsolete every year.
“We are looking at doing this sometime down the road, and doing it right when we do,” he said. “And I think that we are a very conservative group. We are taxpayers, too.
“We are simply trying to plan for the future of our community,” Hutson said.
Board member David Riegel said that the library board has made necessary improvements to the current home, as funding has allowed, and that board members have talked about continuing to do that years down the road.
“We have agonized over spending money on a 50-year-old building that doesn’t fully meet the needs of the people in our district.
“It would be irresponsible for us to continue to spend tax money forever on a building that doesn’t fully meet the needs of the people who use it,” Riegel said.
At the recent park board meeting, Riegel said, “All of us have wanted to avoid any cost through taxation to the public,” he said.
“The library is changing so much,” Schaafsma said, with another board member, Joanna Helm adding, “and we’re trying to keep up with those changes.”
And, as board members have discussed what the new building would look like, they have talked about having something that would serve the entire community,
“We’re talking about making it more of a community building,” she said.
Library board members have talked about including in that building room for up to 20 computers, a reading room, an expanded children’s area that could house up to 10 computers and an area for crafts, an adult area, small kitchenette and conference room.
Bingham said that when library board members approached the park district about using some of the park district’s land for a building, it was Mark Miller, president of the park board, who brought up the idea of using the land housing the Evans Youth Center, due to the fact that Charles and Josie Evans funded both the youth center and the library structure built in 1960.
At the recent park board meeting, park district attorney Jack Johnston said he agrees with Miller on that point.
“His (Charles Evans) interests were clearly education, a community library and youth – I think you are both working toward that end,” Johnston said.
In addition to having plans for a building project to become eligible for grant funds from the state, the library district is required to legal documents for the property on which it would like to build.
Thus, library board members went to the park board meeting last month to discuss that issue.
An intergovernmental agreement was kicked around, but Johnston said that that is “the decidedly wrong approach.”
The alternative, he said, would be to place the deed for the property in escrow, which would allow the park district to use the property if it ever has sufficient funds to build a new facility.
That would include the stipulation, Johnston said, that if the library district is unable to come up with the construction funding, the property would be retained by the park district.
Miller told park board and library board that as the issue is discussed, he wants to remember the local taxpayers.
“I want to represent the voters, and want to know how they feel about things such as this,” Miller said.
Library board members have discussed an advisory referendum through which it would get some feedback from the public.
The library and park board have also discussed holding a joint public meeting in the future.
Miller believes that’s a good idea.
“I just want to have the chance to tell everybody what’s going on,” Miller said, adding that it would also be a good opportunity for residents to voice their opinions.