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L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library previews renovations
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — The newly-renovated L.E. Phillips Memorial Library is set to reopen after Labor Day, and Monday offered a sneak peek of the expanded facility.

Library staff and representatives from MRS Design and Market and Johnson provided local media with a look at some of the updates Monday, along with the remaining timeline.

“As you’ll see today, our big renovation project is wrapping up,” said Nancy Kerr, the newly appointed library director. “Construction began in May of 2021, and our partners at Market and Johnson have kept us on time and on budget.”

Kerr expressed gratitude to the individuals and businesses that generously donated $7 million to the Story Builder Capital Campaign. The additional funding, coupled with the $11.5 million invested by the city, allowed the construction of a third floor and the inclusion of modern innovations.

“To raise so much in only a few short years, and during a global pandemic, has been amazing. I hope the community feels true ownership over this fabulous new building,” Kerr said.

Market and Johnson Project Executive Mike Shea gave the press a tour around the newly renovated space.

“Things came in under budget and on schedule and we’ve been able to work with the architects and the city to keep things on track budget-wise,” Shea said.

The 70,000-square-foot space not only improved the aesthetics of the building but also the building’s energy efficiency and safety measures, he said. Shea called it “a 50-year-plus building for the city that will have energy efficiencies that will last a long time.”

An update to the heating and cooling system was one of the improvements. The previous system was completely gutted and replaced with one that uses geothermal energy from 36 geothermal wells.

The lower level of the library will showcase a larger Dabble Box maker space. At almost twice the size of the previous space, the Dabble Box will include a secondary room designated for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities. There will also be an outdoor patio space for messier science experiments.

The main floor of the library has a larger, open floor plan with more windows for increased natural lighting. Meeting rooms are also available to the community. The rooms are a response one of the biggest requests from the public.

“Another thing the community has told us for many years that they are interested in is small meeting spaces. We have 10 meeting rooms in the library now,” Library Deputy Director Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer said.

Another space that received a significant amount of community interest is a drive-up pick-up location. Collins-Fuerbringer said customers will be able to use it to pick up their hold items without having to step foot in the library.

Home of the book sections and the computer lab, the second floor features a bridge that connects one side of the building to the other. Called the Headwaters bridge, it is supposed to mimic the confluence structure of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers.

One of the biggest additions to the renovation was the construction of the third floor. The brand new space features a community room that can serve as a public use event space with a capacity of around 200.

The third floor also houses an innovation lab — a classroom-like space with a kitchen — as well as an outdoor rooftop terrace with views of the city

Lauren Gardner, an interior designer from MSR Design working with the project, said the team designed the renovation around the concept of the movement of water, like the river viewable from the library’s windows.

“The spaces where you want to slow down are going to feel more like a river eddy … it feels slow and it feels comfortable. And in our more active spaces, it’s more like a river current moving around,” Gardner said.

She also described the lower level as the refreshing and always moving riverbed, while the new third floor acts as a mist that feels fresh and bright.

When asked how she thinks the renovation will change the downtown area, Collins-Fuerbringer said the changes to accessibility will only increase community participation in the space she described as the most visited spot in downtown Eau Claire.

Collins-Fuerbring is also excited about moving back into the downtown space from the temporary space located on Mall Drive.

“That space is a little under 25,000 square feet and we were at over 60 here, so we significantly reduced our footprint,” Collins-Fuerbring said. “While I think a lot of people appreciate the location, we don’t have any of the amenities there.”

As the final stages of reopening begin, library customers can expect a pause in library services. The final day to check out materials and pick up available holds is August 6. Digital services provided by the library will be paused from August 9-10.

Those who wish to return their library materials during the closure can do so at the different return boxes around Eau Claire, however, all of the due dates of the materials will be extended to when services are back up and running.

Early in September, a soft reopening will take place before the grand reopening near the end of September. Dates and event information will be announced later.

Biden celebration of new gun law clouded by latest shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden welcomed a crowd to the White House lawn Monday to showcase a new law meant to reduce gun violence, celebrating “real progress” after years of inaction. But he also lamented the country remains “awash in weapons of war” — with the 16-day-old law already overshadowed by yet another horrific mass shooting.

The bill, passed after recent gun rampages in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, incrementally toughens requirements for young people buying guns, denies firearms to more domestic abusers and helps local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous.

But the “celebration” Monday morning came a week after a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven people at an Independence Day parade, a stark reminder of the limitations of the new law in addressing the American phenomenon of mass gun violence. And it comes as Democratic governors have taken up the mantle of offering outrage in the face of gun violence.

Biden hosted hundreds of guests on the South Lawn, including a bipartisan group of lawmakers who crafted and supported the legislation, state and local officials — including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering — and the families of victims of both mass shootings and everyday gun violence.

“Because of your work, your advocacy, your courage, lives will be saved today and tomorrow because of this,” Biden said.

“We will not save every life from the epidemic of gun violence,” he added, “But if this law had been in place years ago, even this last year, lives would have been saved.”

Still, Biden said, “we’re living in a country awash in weapons of war.” He repeated his call on Congress to pass a federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines — or at minimum to require more stringent background checks and training before purchases.

He also said Congress should pass legislation to hold gun owners legally accountable if their weapons are improperly stored and are used to commit violence.

He noted that he owns four shotguns and said he keeps them secured at his home.

“We can’t just stand by,” Biden said. “ With rights come responsibilities. If you own a weapon, you have a responsibility to secure it and keep it under lock and key.”

Biden on Saturday invited Americans to share with him via text — a new White House communications strategy — their stories of how they’ve been affected by gun violence, tweeting that “I’m hosting a celebration of the passage of the Safer Communities Act.” He told some of their stories on Monday — of people traumatized by shootings and kids left orphaned.

The new law is the the most impactful firearms-violence measure Congress has approved since enacting a now-expired assault weapons ban in 1993. Yet gun control advocates — and even White House officials — say it’s premature to declare victory.

“There’s simply not much to celebrate here,” said Igor Volsky, director of the private group Guns Down America.

“It’s historic, but it’s also the very bare minimum of what Congress should do,” Volsky said. “And as we were reminded by the shooting on July 4, and there’s so many other gun deaths that have occurred since then, the crisis of of gun violence is just far more urgent.”

Volsky’s group, along with other advocacy groups, was holding a news conference on Monday outside the White House calling on Biden to create an office at the White House to address gun violence with a greater sense of urgency.

Biden has left gun control policy to his Domestic Policy Council, rather than establishing a dedicated office like the one he opened to address climate change or the gender policy council he started to promote reproductive health access.

“We have a president who really hasn’t met the moment, who has chosen to act as a bystander on this issue,” Volsky said. “For some reason the administration absolutely refuses to have a senior official who can drive this issue across government.”

During his remarks Monday, Biden was heckled by Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Biden briefly paused his speech and asked Oliver, who was shouting, to sit down, before adding “Let him talk, let him talk,” as he was escorted out of the event.

The president signed the bipartisan gun bill into law on June 25, calling it “a historic achievement” at the time.

On Monday, Biden said the law’s passage should be a call for further action.

“Will we match thoughts and prayers with action?” Biden asked. “I say yes. And that’s what we’re doing here today.”

On Friday, Biden responded to the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by taking note of how the shooting had shocked people in Japan. The country has a strikingly low incidence of gun violence compared to the U.S., which has experienced thousands of gun deaths already this year.

Most of the new law’s $13 billion in spending would be used for bolstering mental health programs and for schools, which have been targeted by shooters in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland. The law was the product of weeks of closed-door negotiations by a bipartisan group of senators who emerged with a compromise.

It does not include far tougher restrictions that Democrats and Biden have long championed, such as a ban on assault-type weapons and background checks for all gun transactions. Prospects are slim for any further congressional action this year.

Eau Claire councilman questions ARPA money use to address PFAS contamination
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — Using $1 million in COVID-19 pandemic-recovery funds to help address PFAS contamination at the city’s wellfield prompted questions from Eau Claire City Council members on Monday night.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann was the most vocal about that item in City Manager Stephanie Hirsch’s proposal for using $13.5 million coming to Eau Claire through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Right now I still have reservations about our PFAS remediation being paid for by ARPA funding,” Werthmann said. “There are other parties responsible for the pollution and I want to see them pay.”

Deputy City Attorney Douglas Hoffer agreed with the councilman’s sentiments, but said the city should continue pushing forward with steps to prevent the contaminants from becoming a bigger problem.

“As a staff we share your concern that taxpayers are not footing the bill when there are potentially private interests that profited off making these materials that should be held responsible,” he said.

Hoffer added that the city needs to continue its remediation work at the wellfield for two reasons. The first is that it’s clearly in the public benefit to keep PFAS out of drinking water. And the second reason is the current efforts show the city is mitigating its damages tied to the contamination, which would work in the city’s favor if there ever is a lawsuit where Eau Claire can recover remediation costs from a PFAS producer.

“We’re doing everything we can to limit the problem now,” Hoffer said.

Lane Berg, city utilities manager, said the $1 million in the ARPA proposal would be used for designing, engineering and other planning work to get the city ready to add PFAS-removing technology at the wellfield in 2023.

“That will get us to a point where we’re able to build something next year,” he said.

Although PFAS were found over a year ago in a few of the city’s wells, Eau Claire’s drinking water has remained well within safety limits set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

{div class=”subscriber-only”}Seven of the city’s 16 wells are currently not in use as they’ve tested positive for PFAS.{/div}

{div class=”subscriber-only”}Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment, PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used in a variety of products since the 1950s. They are found in non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and firefighting foam.

While health effects of PFAS are still being studied, research suggests that high levels of certain ones may raise cholesterol levels, reduce vaccine efficacy, increase risk of thyroid disease, lower fertility in women, increase certain health risks in pregnant women, and result in slightly lower infant birth weights, according to the state Department of Health Services’ website.

The City Council is scheduled to vote during its 4 p.m. meeting today on Hirsch’s proposal for using the ARPA money. However, a community member who spoke during the council’s Monday night public discussion felt that decision should be delayed to rework the proposal.”Postponing these funding decisions could hopefully allocate some of these funds toward homelessness,” said Mao Xiong, advocacy program manager at the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association.In addition to addressing homelessness, she said that dealing with mental health problems in Eau Claire and expanding affordable housing are other ways she’d want to see the ARPA funding used.Hirsch’s proposal does include $450,000 for funding a warming center for the homeless for the next three winters. The proposal also has $38,000 to run a cooling center during the worst of summer, which would be enough to cover about 19 days of extreme heat. Another $30,000 would go toward bus passes for the homeless.Those items are included in the first, immediate phase of ARPA funding, which uses about $9.5 million in Hirsch’s proposal.Further addressing homelessness and creating a fund for affordable housing are included in the second phase. That phase would be for the remaining $4 million and also include business development and issues that children and families are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on the proposal.{/div}