JACKSON - After years of careful planning and waiting, Jackson County Library Director Tamara Erickson and her staff are in the midst of a major renovation and expansion project at the main library in downtown Jackson.

“Construction has gone well - we started in September and hope to have it completed by late May,” Erickson said. “We’re adding on to the meeting room and the south reading area - a total of 1,500 square feet - and renovating the entire library.”

The initial need for more space and a reinvestment in the Jackson library was originally identified years ago, and the city, county and library system have all worked together to make bring the project to fruition.

“We actually hired an architectural firm out of the (Twin) Cities and worked with them for almost 10 years once we started realizing that we needed more space and an update,” Erickson said. “They analyzed each section of the building to see what we wanted and needed and how it could look.”

The two sections benefiting from the expansion are those that were identified as cramped and in need of more space in the architectural review, but the improvements for patrons and library staff don’t end there.

“We will be getting new carpet, repainting everything and completely rearranging the spaces. We’re moving the children’s area to the other side of the building - it’s all going to be really fun,” enthused Erickson.

There will also be a vestibule that leads to the parking lot added to the west side of the current library building, and a couple other investments in new interior materials made possible by multiple entities.

“We are getting all new furniture and some new bookshelves, which the county is paying for,” Erickson said. “We are really excited about the project, and are so pleased with the city of Jackson and Jackson County with how supportive they have been of the library. We are fortunate that our city and county officials are so supportive of this new project.”

Other library enhancements will be the doubling of the computers available for public use. Erickson made clear that although patrons are using technology and alternative reading mechanisms, there is still a significant need for space, but of a different sort than purely for stacks of books.

“We are increasing the number of computers that we will have for public access from five to 10. What we have seen is that people come to the library and stay; they read, use their laptop and computers, so we needed more seating space for them. The needs of the library in terms of technology are what has changed from when the library was built in 1989,” Erickson detailed.

This extensive project was funded in part by the city of Jackson, which actually owns the library building itself and is responsible for structural maintenance and repair, and a state grant.

“The city applied for and received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education, which is in the amount of $570,000,” city administrator Jennifer Bromeland explained. “The remaining portion is city funding through city reserves, and is about $657,000.”

The project cost in total, then, came out to $1.2 million.

The county is paying for the new furniture and shelves because the county staffs the library and buys interior furnishings and materials like books, computers and interior furnishings.

Bromeland expressed an equal measure of enthusiasm and support for the library project, and noted that the use the facility receives benefits a wide array of Jackson County residents.

“We’ve been trying to get this done for a long time,” said Bromeland. “Our library has been a good building, but it came to the point where we outgrew it. It’s a good project for the community and will definitely be something that is an asset for years to come, in addition to serving people of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of income.”