Saturday, September 24, 2016

Library seeking grant for expansion

Undersized and in need of updating, Crittenden County Public Library is seeking a state grant to help fund the first construction at the facility since it was built 41 years ago. Director Regina Merrick said the $2.5 million project, if approved, will help the library better serve the public in a number of ways, including improved access to the building and compartmentalizing areas of special interest inside.

"CCPL has strived to provide services for the past 40 years in our facility, but as the years have passed, our ability to meet the community’s needs have become more difficult," Merrick said. "With the proposed addition and renovation of the public library, I feel that we can be a vital partner in the growth of our community."

This effort marks the second time the board of trustees has elected to pursue money from the Public Library Facility Construction (PLFC) Fund for expansion to bring the building up to current state standards and meet patrons' changing expectations of libraries. The application for the grant will be submitted next month and a decision from the Kentucky Department for Library and Archives (KDLA) should be known by the end of the year.

Though the original architecture of the library has stood the test of time aesthetically, the structure is four decades old and was built for the needs of the mid-1970s. Outside of regular maintenance and work to shore up the building after settling several years ago, there has been no construction at the site. In fact, many of the young children who attended Story Hour when the building first opened are now bringing their grandchildren enrolled in the reading program to a facility that remains virtually the same as 41 years ago.

"Our library was built as a state-of-the-art building in 1975. Since then, the community’s needs have changed," Merrick said. "Better access to technology, more meeting spaces, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access to the building and educational opportunities for children and adults are all part of the plan for an expanded library."

More programming for adults and young adults, in particular, is one of the needs a larger, modernized library can better meet. And the board of trustees is also looking to add evening and weekend hours to better serve the public, even if the grant is rejected.

Daryl Tabor, president of the five-member governing board, said financing the project would not call for any additional tax revenue nor jeopardize the library's current financial stability. The library currently has no debt or budgeted capital expenditures.

The board plans to contribute $100,000 from savings and borrow $2.4 million. The annual debt service would be about $185,000 for 20 years. As proposed, $165,000 would come from PLFC funds, with the balance from the local library. About three-quarters of that $20,000 should be met with additional tax revenue from a state-mandated increase this year in county property assessments.

"The library is bursting at the seams and desperately needs more room to accommodate the needs of our patrons, and this is the right time to seek expansion," Tabor said. "The beauty of this proposal is that taxpayers will be on the hook for nothing extra. It's long overdue, and we hope KDLA will see how this project is a win-win for everyone."

The public library was founded in 1952 with only $3,200 – $2,900 from the state and $300 from Crittenden Fiscal Court. When the library taxing district was approved by county voters seven years later, the statute under which it was created set the tax levy at 5 cents per $100 of assessment on property. Unlike other local taxing districts, the rate cannot be changed; and outside of annual state aid check, the library receives no other public money.

For several years, the library has planned for an expansion. While board members have changed during that period, Merrick, as director has kept the proposal on course. Though the grant request was not approved two years ago, she believes the library stands a strong chance of catching the eyes of decision-makers in Frankfort.

“When we did not receive the applied-for grant in 2014, we were told that we needed to think bigger. We needed to plan for space that would take care of our needs for the next 20 years" explained Merrick. "We have the land in place, and we are not planning a huge change in lifestyle, budget-wise. I think that will appeal to the grant committee.”

This year, there are three other libraries in our region asking for assistance from the $1 million pot of PLFC money. None, however, have what KDLA considers sub-standard facilities when it comes to space and parking.

Currently, the local library serves 27,000-plus patrons annually with only 5,139 square feet under roof, ranking it 109th of 119 library systems in Kentucky. It has less than a third of the space of Caldwell County's library and is smaller than those in all surrounding counties. KDLA standards call for 7,000 square feet in a county our size (population under 25,000).

The proposal calls for an additional 3,950 square feet to include special areas, office space, a garage for the bookmobile and a covered porch. Those special areas would include separate enclosed reading and genealogy rooms, an isolated children's area and additional meeting space.

"Currently, we cannot have more than one program at a time, because beyond the meeting room, the rest of the library is wide open," Merrick explained. "The expansion of the current meeting room, an additional meeting space and the other separate spaces will allow at least three meetings or programs at one time.

"To be able to offer an adult program and have space to have a children’s program at the same time?  Unprecedented in our library."

Furthermore, access to the library would be greatly improved through the addition of 20 off-street parking spots and increased handicap-accessibility. Currently, the library relies on only a couple off-street parking spots for patrons. Curbside parking is minimal and is often overwhelmed by courthouse patrons, particularly on days court is in session. And parking and access for disabled patrons is almost nonexistent.

"This will change the way the library is used for years to come," Merrick said of the overall plan.

Crittenden County Public Library has an annual materials circulation – books, audio, video, magazines, etc. – of more than 41,000, and its 28,000-plus books give Crittenden County a higher books-to-resident ratio than all but 26 of the library systems in the commonwealth. It hosted 7,200 public Internet sessions (not including WiFi) last year and 870 children enrolled in programs. It ranked 79th in visits per capita and 58th in circulation per user despite having the 11th smallest building in Kentucky.

Merrick is planning an open house at the library for sometime next month in order to give the public a view of the expansion plans and see how it will benefit the community.

The board of trustees includes Tabor, Vice President Brenda Underdown, Treasurer George Sutton, Secretary Dulcie Hardin and Carol Harrison. The board meets at 5 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month in the library's meeting room.