By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — When the three members of the property committee, several library board members and a couple community members squeezed their way through the Colfax Public Library, it was easy to see where the problem lies.
There’s not enough room.
The Colfax Village Board’s public property committee met July 9 to tour the current library facility and to discuss the offer of Dairy State Bank to donate the lot next to the bank for a new library.
“It is no eye-opener that (the existing library) is small,” said Scott Gunnufson, chair of the property committee and Colfax village president.
Gunnufson wondered if, in the future, the library might rely more on digital formats for materials rather than physical materials, and, therefore, would not need as much room to store a collection of materials.
The American Library Association and the Public Library Association say that the role of libraries will change in the future to provide more services for communities, said Lisa Ludwig, director of the Colfax Public Library.
Providing more programs and services for both adults and children will mean that the library will need more space rather than less space, Ludwig said.
In addition, the Colfax Public Library frequently receives calls for an available meeting space for groups and clubs, but there is no meeting room available at the library, she said.
In fact, there is no public community meeting space available in Colfax anywhere, Ludwig said.
Groups and clubs can either meet at the Grapevine Senior Center, where they have to pay for renting the space, or perhaps one of the banks might allow them to use a conference room, she said.
“I don’t see libraries dying … I see them maybe going in a little bit different direction,” Ludwig said.
As for the Colfax Public Library, Ludwig said she did not anticipate that the size of the physical collection would decrease over the next ten years.
Mark Halpin, village trustee and a member of the property committee, wondered what other libraries in communities similar to Colfax offered for services that Colfax cannot offer because of space constraint.
Libraries that have more square footage than Colfax offer more computers for public use, more computer software, digital devices, such as a Wii video game console, and places where people can do research and can read newspapers and magazines — not to mention that they have adequate room for a public presentation, such as a speaker or a storyteller for children’s activities or room for more activities for adults, Ludwig said.
The only space available for any kind of public presentation at the Colfax Public Library is the small area up front with the children’s table and children’s materials.
When a speaker or some other program presenter is occupying that space and children come into the library for books, library staff members have to tell the children that they cannot look at the books and other materials, Ludwig said.
Tower Park also is available for presentations, but the park only works during the summer when the weather is warm and it is not raining.
Tower Park poses its own unique challenges, too. Situated right next to state Highway 40, truck traffic can be so loud that it drowns out a speaker’s voice, Ludwig noted.
The Colfax Municipal Building is historically significant to Colfax and is important to the downtown area, but the fact remains that the administrator-clerk-treasurer’s office and the police department also do not have enough room in the existing space, Gunnufson said.
If the village builds a new library, then there will be two buildings to maintain, and the clerk’s office and the police department still will not have enough room, he said.
If an adequate site were available, the village could consider constructing a new building to house the library, the administrative offices, a police department and a community center, Gunnufson said.
A two-story building to house all of those functions could possibly be built on the Dairy State Bank lot, he said.
Before the village board considers the question of a new library or a new multi-purpose building for the library, community center, clerk and police department, it would be important to know what plans the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group has for the municipal building in one year, five years and ten years, Gunnufson said.
CMBRG is still an active group, and “they have done an amazing job so far on the building,” he said.
Another aspect of the situation is that Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center has asked whether the village would be interested in the old nursing home building for a library, he said.
Would it be feasible for the old nursing home to be used for a library, village clerk’s office, community center and police department — or would the building be better suited for something else, such as a hotel and business center? Gunnufson wondered.
Another question that must be answered is whether CHRC would sell the old nursing home building or whether the village would have to lease it, he said, adding that if the old nursing home needs renovation for use as a municipal building, it would be better for the village to own it rather than lease it.
When Ludwig reported on Dairy State Bank’s offer at the village board’s last meeting in June, Gunnufson expressed concern about moving the library away from the downtown area and the impact on other downtown businesses.
Kyle Kressin, owner of Kyle’s Market, said that in his opinion, moving the library would not impact the downtown businesses in a negative way.
When Kirkwood’s IGA moved out to the location on the south side of town, people were concerned about the downtown area, but moving the grocery store acted as a way to extend Main Street, he said.
Wherever the library is located in town, it will still help all of the businesses, he said, in much the same way that still having a grocery store in town is helping the other businesses.
When the grocery store moved, “people said the downtown would die. But CTL has expanded, Karl’s Chevrolet has expanded, and Cenex has expanded. They all seem to be doing quite well,” Kressin said.
“This is a big decision (for Colfax), and I think we should explore all of the options,” he said.
Claudia Kressin said that the more services the library can offer, the better it will be for the community.
A library that can offer more programs and services “will bring more people to Colfax, which will bring revenue to the community,” she said.
The recommendation for a library for a village the size of Colfax is 10,000 square feet.
To give some perspective on size, Kyle’s Market is 10,000 square feet, Kressin noted.
Dairy State Bank has owned the lot in question since 2005, and the lot is not for sale, said Clark Yolitz, representing Dairy State Bank.
Over the years, the bank has been approached by a few businesses that were interested in buying the lot, but it did not work out for the businesses, he said.
“If it works out for a library and village hall, that would be great,” Yolitz said.
The lot, he noted, is not much value to the bank, which has to pay property taxes on the lot, not to mention that the lot must be mowed during the summer months.
Gunnufson wondered if Dairy State would still be willing to donate the lot if the village planned to build a multi-purpose building to house the library, village administrative offices, community center and police department.
Yolitz said that the bank would still be willing to donate the lot under those circumstances.
The village board must also consider how the Colfax Municipal Building would be used if the library, village clerk and police department moved out, Halpin said.
“I like the idea of a multi-use facility, but if this building is vacated, who will be responsible for putting the building to use?” he asked.
The question of what to do with the existing municipal building is the very reason the village board must find out what CMBRG’s intent is for the building, Gunnufson said.
Instead of a municipal use, perhaps the building could be used for shops or for professional offices, he said.
The next step, Gunnufson said, is to ask CMBRG about their plans for the municipal building and to get more information from Colfax Health and Rehab about the old nursing home building.
The Colfax Municipal Building is listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.