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In Jackson, library seeing limits of space, structure

JACKSON -- The Jackson County Library is facing a midlife crisis.

In the last several months, several severe maintenance issues in the 1981 building have surfaced during the process of obtaining quotes for the replacement of carpet and paint. Some of the difficulties with the building have been chronic, but it turns out that much more than a coat of paint is needed.

"We have had continuing problems with deteriorating plaster on window sills during the last few years," Library Director Tam Erickson said. "We had work done on it, but never figured out the problem. They took a look at the window structure and found problems. Issues of real severity have been detected in the last couple of months."

There remains a fear that the windows may fall out -- the concrete under the windows is also falling apart.

"The city has applied for grant funds through the Robert and Helen Remick Charitable Foundation Trust, and should receive word as to whether grant funding will be awarded on or around July 12th," Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland said.

These funds would total $75,000, which is the cost to replace all the windows in the library. "The city will likely be forced to moved forward with this aspect of the Library Renovation and Expansion Project regardless of whether state bond funds are obtained, in an effort to keep the library functional," Bromeland added.

Due to the safety concerns with the windows, the carpet and paint improvements have been put on hold until the windows are fully dealt with.

Other problems include a leaking roof in the kitchen area and the sunroom in the south part of the library.

"It has been ongoing -- patch jobs have been done, but the problems have come back," Erickson said. "Major maintenance things that should have been done have not been done."

The interior isn't the only issue, either.

"The stucco on the exterior is also crumbling," Erickson explained. "It is normal maintenance, but something that has to be done. In my opinion, something has to be done now, or it will look really bad."

Erickson added that she realizes costs are high and money scarce, but "it is not getting cheaper."

The Jackson City Council has approved a request for state bond funds to be put toward the estimated $1.13 million Library Expansion and Renovation Project.

"No updates have been received since the bond request was submitted, and the city's project request will be included the governor's capital budget submission, which must be submitted by Jan. 15, 2014," Bromeland said.

The Jackson request will be included in the budget submission regardless of whether the project is recommended for funding by the governor.

Community importance

Erickson is certain there is a real need in the community of Jackson for an expansion and renovation.

"We started a space evaluation way back in 1998, and at that point we were told that we were outgrowing our space; we have made do until now," Erickson said.

Fifteen years later, she added, the space crunch is more acute.

"After school, there is no place to sit, nowhere to go," she said. "We need a bigger space for people. When we're talking about an addition, it isn't about book space -- it is media/computer space, community space, families using the library and kids playing."

The library is an important community gathering place, Erickson said.

"For the summer reading program, we get so many kids that the room is packed," she said. "We have had to turn kids away because there is no room for them. We had 350 kids, and moved the program to the government center -- then the kids aren't in the library."

Erickson offered several more stories of how the space constraints have impacted library usage and programs.

"There are families that come to go to a program, and they turn and leave because there is no room," she said. "Older people won't come to the library after school, because it is too crazy. Our meeting room is too small; a 4-H group met there once and said they wouldn't meet there again because it was so cramped."

The importance of space within the community, Erickson stressed, is huge.

"The meeting room is one of the few free places in the community for organizations to meet," she said. "There are spaces that can be rented, but non-profits need a place to go."

Project hiccups

In 2010, the architecture firm of Bentz/Thompson/Reitow put together a cost estimate of the expansion and renovation, which has since increased from $1.05 million to the aforementioned $1.13 million due to inflation.

"Due to the cost involved with the project and the lack of funding, the project was put on hold," Bromeland said.

If the bonds are not approved in 2014, further hardships will result.

"Due to the cost involved with the proposed renovation and expansion, the city would likely be forced to further put the project on hold and deal with maintenance issues as they arise in an effort to keep the library functional," Bromeland explained.

Possible alternative funding sources could hurt taxpayers, too.

"The only other way to pay for such a project is through private funding or grant funds or the annual tax levy," Bromeland said. "Absent private or grant funding, the project would be a burden to taxpayers in that annual debt service payments would have to be financed via the tax levy, which would not be a viable funding option."

Erickson remains hopeful that options beyond temporary fixes will be considered.

"I have no idea what will happen if we don't get the money, but we will be meeting with the architects again and will include them in the placement of windows," she said.

"If we only put new windows in, five years from now, we might do a renovation and decide they don't fit in," she continued. "Some have said that we want a new library, but that is not true. We are happy with the building itself and location."

If the state bond funds are obtained and the library can be expanded, Bromeland estimates construction beginning in September 2014, with completion by the end of the following June.

Through it all, Bromeland asserted that the city of Jackson is fully on board with the project.

"The city is trying to be proactive in identifying funding to help offset the cost associated with the proposed expansion and renovation project, while also undertaking necessary maintenance as it arises to keep the library functional," Bromeland said. "It is truly an asset to patrons of all ages and backgrounds in the Jackson area."