If library expands, money might come from many sources

If library expands, money might come from many sources

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If an addition is built onto the Portage Public Library, residents will see an intricate arrangement of concrete, masonry and metal take shape on West Edgewater Street. But before that can happen, an intricate arrangement of money, paperwork and people must take shape in meeting rooms and offices.

Some of the ways in which those latter pieces might fit together were made clearer during the library board's monthly meeting Tuesday.

The project, which could add 6,000 square feet to the building, is expected to cost as much as $1 million.

Space would come from an adjacent lot occupied by a vacant brick house built in 1865.

Money is one of the key pieces to expansion.

Library Director Shannon Stiller told the board that the Bidwell Foundation, a local nonprofit that has contributed matching funds for numerous civic projects, said it would be willing to make about $400,000 available for expansion. One of the foundation's three trustees reiterated the organization's interest Tuesday.

"It is a project we have been interested in for a long time, and hopefully it will move forward," said Richard Rehm.

Stiller also reported that the city of Portage qualifies for a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant and 40-year loan to help fund the project. The program is based on median income and population. The city would have to apply for the package, which might fund as much as 35 percent of the project. The program was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The city's service organizations might play a role as well. George Beasley, president of Portage Rotary, heard a presentation from Stiller about the project and said he plans to talk with leaders of the local Optimist, Kiwanis and Lions groups. He said although nothing is formal or official - he still needs to discuss the project with other group members - he said he thought the groups might be able to pull together $50,000 toward expansion.

"She's got a lot of good ideas," he said of Stiller. "I thought maybe we'd get the four groups together and suggest to them we do this as a group project."

Furthermore, added an architect who was invited to attend Tuesday's meeting, the project might be eligible for energy efficiency grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce if appropriate equipment is installed.

The Bidwell Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Commerce and local service groups: If these organizations put money toward the project, the board still will need to put together several hundred thousand dollars for the expansion.

Some of that money might come from private donations. Before the board formally asks for taxpayer money - "This is a tough year to do it," Stiller said, though she also said she hasn't heard any negative comments about the proposed expansion - it will need to have a plan acceptable to local government.

Toward that end, the board members also heard from architect Mike Bahr of Plunkett Raysich Architects, which has offices in Madison and Milwaukee. Bahr, who is working on a library construction project in Waunakee and has worked on library projects in Cottage Grove, Germantown, New Berlin and other places in Wisconsin, proposed a design process fueled by residents' input. Design workshops, focus groups and analyses of space needs and the library's collections all might be part of it.

"On a community-based project, it's important to include as many people as you can. Not just because you want their money, but because you want their feedback," Bahr said. "You have no idea where money is going to come from."

Bahr also promoted the creation of a master plan good for several decades that gives reasons, backed up by a thorough design process, for what the library board proposes to do.

"It enables you to answer questions at the grocery," Bahr told board members. "You can be honest about it, actually. In politics, how often does that happen?"

Bahr also cautioned the board about other parts of the process. He noted there had been some interest on the board in having a single company both design and build the library addition.

"Technically, that's illegal in the state of Wisconsin now," he said, pointing to state laws about public construction projects. "You still have to bid out all the subpieces."

The board will talk further about whether to hire Bahr's firm or another architectural firm to help.

Eleanor Voigt, who recently was appointed to the board, said it will be important to get residents involved in the possible expansion and talk about how modern libraries are about more than books.

"I think we need to get out into the community with a much larger concept of how things have changed," she said.

Stiller said she plans to put together a letter-writing campaign to the city's officials and get the Friends of the Library involved.

"I'd like to see it happen, and I can start talking to the city right away," Stiller said of the possible expansion.

Stiller said she expects city budget discussions to begin in the summer. As far as a timeline for a library expansion is concerned, Stiller referred again to a need for planning.

"We need to discuss it a bit more simply because we need to be very, very clear about what our service goals are," she said.

Also discussed Tuesday:

• Late this year or early next year, the library's Internet service should be upgraded. It will be paid for by federal stimulus money granted to the state Department of Administration. Stiller said computers should be able to download photos and other material as much as 10 times faster.

• Stiller said water tests on the library's sprinkler system, which leaked in November, shwoed the problem probably was caused by iron- and acid-producing bacteria. She said bacteria won't be a problem with the replacement pipes, which are galvanized.

• The board approved its officers: Rich Davis and Karen Kaiser will continue as president and vice president. Eleanor McLeish will continue as secretary. Beverly Hoffman was elected treasurer.

mthompson@capitalnewspapers.com

745-3510

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