So what’s happening with the library building, anyway?

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Many of you were involved when we did some surveys, focus groups and listening sessions a few years ago in order to determine the needs of the community and how the library facility could best serve you.  What we found then from all respondents was that space was your biggest concern–focusing mostly on programming and people space, followed closely by light, parking and more comfortable seating.

In 2012, we performed a QBS (Quality Based Selection) process and selected MSR as our architectural team.  They worked with us to develop a concept for a new library based on both objective and subjective needs.  We looked at library usage, trends in service and population growth for our region-as well as things like poverty, the digital divide, and early literacy needs in Barron County.  The goal was to create a facility that would meet the needs of the Rice Lake Community for the next forty years or more.  A facility that was flexible, efficient and comfortable, and that would hit that sweet spot of cost effective but with long term savings and value.

Unfortunately, the beautiful concept developed to meet those very real needs was expensive at $10 million for a new facility and $9 million for a complete renovation and expansion.  While we hoped at the time that the city could fund half of the project with  private fundraising efforts making up the rest, that didn’t come to fruition for a number of reasons, not least being the concern that the private sector couldn’t meet that lofty goal of $4-5 million.

In 2014 we went back to the drawing board with our architects, building committee and staff and scaled back the design.  Instead of looking to the future, we looked at what we needed today, right now, for the community we serve.  Many of you see the crowds we generate at our programs and events–the same events that offer our children and families a broader range of experiences than they  might otherwise find in our area–and know that we cannot safely provide space for all of those needs.  We also had a wonderful offer from the Board of the Lakeview Medical Center.  They were willing to donate a beautiful new site to us, free of charge, with a view of Rice Lake.  Their reasoning was that this wonderful place should be available to the entire community as a public space.  We came up with a new, less expensive concept.  A smaller facility with less expensive finishes and fewer technological efficiencies.  The price tag for this brand new facility, fully furnished and ready to go was $7 million.  Again, our goal was to split the cost between the public and private funding available.

But with the city facing looming deficits and concern about the tax rate, our Council tabled that discussion until a fuller picture would be available to them within the 2016 budget.

At that point, a motion was made to go ahead with $3 million in off-year borrowing, but to instead assign $1.5 of it to streets projects not already in the city’s capital improvement plan, set aside $500,000 for Moon Lake Park upgrades–including a splash pad, and to offer $1 milllion for the renovation and expansion of the Public Library.

Last week, the Council approved that plan when they voted to approve the 2016 Budget following a public hearing.

Library Board members, Friends of the Library, and Library staff are now working together to come up with a plan that will allow us to offer our community the best bang for that million bucks that we can.  Our plan is to begin a capital campaign in 2016 in order to attempt to match the funding from the City of Rice Lake.  This might allow us to address our biggest prioritized need–more space!

For now, we have contractors beginning the work in our lower level to rid it of mold and asbestos and make it a more functional and clean space for our patrons and staff to use.  We hope to update the bathrooms downstairs to make them ADA compliant and accessible to all of our patrons.  We have a goal of having the lower level useful to us during any renovation and expansion of the main and second floors in late 2016/early 2017.

We are trying to remain flexible–as we all know, renovations can be tricky and costly surprises can crop up.  But we hope to offer our community a bigger and better library very soon!

If you have any interest in helping with the Capital Campaign and general fundraising for the expansion, contact Eric Kasper, Friends of the Library President at  Donations are being accepted now by the Friends of the Library (a 501C3 organization) if you are interested in assisting with the project financially.

Any other questions, please call or email Library Director Dawn Wacek.  or 715-234-4861 ext. 111.