With a growing population to serve and utilities that are becoming outdated, L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library officials say it’s about time to expand and renovate the 42-year-old downtown building.

The proposed upgrades, which are estimated to cost $19 million, would include adding a third floor and increasing the square footage from roughly 60,000 to 102,000.

Based on guidelines from the state Department of Public Instruction, the library should be at least 90,000 square feet to accommodate the numbers it serves and to meet the library’s strategic planning goals.

This additional space would grant the library more room for collections, sitting areas, early literacy and youth areas, and meeting areas and program spaces. It also would allow for a dedicated space for the Friends of the Library bookstore and potentially a recording studio.

A space needs analysis conducted in 2017 concluded that many of the building’s systems will need renewal in the next few years.

The life span of the updates, which will address the structure of the library and its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, can range anywhere from 20 to 40 years, library director Pamela Westby said.

“Our main priority is to update the existing building,” Westby said, “because there are some safety concerns with the electrical, the roof, the (heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems). Just to ensure we can continue business, we need to update.”

In an online survey that was part of the 2017 analysis, library users said the facility would benefit from increased sunlight in the building, improved accessibility, additional options for both quiet study and collaborative work, more flexible meeting spaces, improved layout to increase efficient work flow, and updated finishes and lighting.

These are all things the proposal will aim to address, Westby said.

The library improvements are one piece of the city’s capital improvement plan, and construction could begin sometime in 2020.

Downtown asset

With about 1,000 visitors each day, the building is downtown’s most-popular destination, Westby said. With that in mind, she said it’s important that the library stays safe for patrons and staff.

“I think the general tone of the improvements is that this building was built in 1976,” library assistant director Kim Hennings said. “It needs to be modernized, and it needs to be reflective of where we’re at today.”

Much of the building is in its original condition, except for a few areas renovated in 2009.

Westby said planned improvements will aim to help uphold the library’s mission: promoting lifelong learning, creating collaborative spaces, and supporting open access to diverse materials and resources to enhance the quality of life in the community.

The majority of money needed for the project — $10.5 million of the $19 million — will come from city borrowing and bonds that can be repaid over time.

For the remaining $8.5 million, the library plans to launch a capital campaign in 2019. First will come a fundraising feasibility study to determine if the community can support the costs of the proposed renovation and expansion. If the study shows it is not an amount the community can provide, other options will be considered.

While Westby said the goal would be to have the money raised before construction begins, she said sometimes donors pledge five or 10 years out; in that case, the library would have to consider construction loans.

Public feedback

Before the library’s recommendation is approved, the public will be able to give their feedback through listening sessions and surveys. Design work will follow, starting in 2019.

Westby and Hennings plan to keep the library open in some capacity during renovations.

“We would do our best to ensure that (the library is) able to be as operable as possible, especially for those who need access to the technology and computers,” Hennings said. “The digital divide is a very real thing, and you take this resource away from some people, and it’s detrimental.”

Westby and Hennings agree that a top priority is keeping the library as “green” as possible by keeping its building footprint as small as possible. This is part of the reason an expansion and renovation was chosen over rebuilding the library, according to the space needs analysis summary.

City engineer David Solberg said the planned upgrades are necessary for the functionality of the library, especially if it is to remain an asset that draws so many people to downtown.

“I think the underlying goal is that everyone wants it to be the best facility to serve its future operations,” he said.

At some point the city might consider adding more green space outside the library, but that would be part of a separate project.

Smaller library improvements from the 2018 city budget are underway now, including safety measures relating to the building’s doors and electrical equipment.

Contact: 715-833-9203, erica.jones@ecpc.com