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What to do about a library in Colfax?

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  What does the Colfax community want to do about a new library?

In this case, community does not only mean people living in the village of Colfax, but  also includes people living in rural Dunn County whose property taxes go toward supporting the library.

 

The question of what to do about a library was considered during a joint meeting of the Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Public Library Board August 4 at the Colfax Rescue Squad building.

The basis for the discussion was Dairy State Bank’s offer to donate 1.9 acres of land on Bremer Avenue for a new library.

According to information provided by Lisa Ludwig, director of the Colfax Public Library, the Dairy State lot has an assessed value of $43,700.

Although some people may think that only village residents fund the Colfax Public Library, that is not true.

James Tripp, Dunn County Board supervisor from Menomonie, is chair of the county board’s Community Relations and Tourism committee, which is responsible for library funding provided by Dunn County.

Tripp noted that for as long as he has been chair of the committee, Dunn County has funded 100 percent of the cost for county residents to use libraries within the county.

The way it works is that the total cost is divided by the total circulation, and then that number is multiplied by the number of people living outside of the village who use the Colfax library, Tripp explained.

State law requires that the county fund 70 percent of the cost of county residents to use libraries in the county, but Dunn County is committed to funding 100 percent of the cost,  he said.

People living in the townships surrounding Colfax account for 60 percent of the circulation at the Colfax Public Library, Tripp said.

In 2013, the Colfax library had a total circulation of 28,094, compared to 17,936 in 2,000, said John Thompson, president of the Indianhead Federated Library System.

Out of the total circulation of 28,094 — at 60 percent, nearly 17,000 of the circulation came from people living outside the village of Colfax, compared to 11,000 for people living in Colfax.

People coming into Colfax to use the library are doing more than using the library — they are buying gasoline, going to the grocery store and visiting the shops downtown, Tripp noted.

Libraries “are a magnet for folks in rural areas … libraries are one of the key components of a thriving community,” he said.

“Dunn County is in full support of upgrading and improving the Colfax library,” Tripp said.

The Colfax Municipal Building was constructed in 1915, and the library has been located in the municipal building since 1916.

The Colfax Municipal Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Space

In 1999 — 15 years ago — a report from the engineering firm of Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH) stated that Colfax needed a new library, citing a lack of program space, a lack of patron seating and a lack of collection space.

Those problems are even worse today, Thompson said.

Public computers take up about 30 percent of the library space, he said.

Computers available at the public library are a valuable resource for people who do not have computers at home, who do not have high-speed Internet access at home, or who have no experience with computers but need someone to help them when applying for a job, filing tax forms or applying for unemployment compensation, Thompson said.

The benefits of a new library would include enough space for a teen area, a children’s area, study space, a public meeting room, expanded room for library materials, more computers, handicapped accessibility, more work space for staff, and would be more energy efficient, Thompson said.

Several people noted that there is no public meeting space available in Colfax.

ADA

The Colfax Public Library also is not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, Thompson  said.

The aisles are too narrow for people in a wheelchair to get around in the library, the restrooms in the municipal building are not ADA compliant, the ramp up the south side of the building is not the proper length or slope, and the counter inside the library is too high and is not ADA compliant, Thompson said.

“How many people are we excluding from using the library and from voting (in the municipal building)? How long do we want to continue excluding?” asked Kate Parent, president of the Colfax library board.

Colfax can continue using the existing facility for another minute or a day or a month or a year or “until someone sues you,” Thompson said.

Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said she was not sure she agreed that the municipal building is not handicapped accessible.

Thompson pointed out that the ramp leading to the back door is long, that it is difficult to position a wheelchair so that the person in the wheelchair can get the door open, and that the lip between the ramp and the doorsill is too high.

In the past, others have pointed out that removing the railing from the landing by the back door and installing steps has made access to the municipal building more dangerous for people in wheelchairs or using walkers, causing concern that while people are trying to open the door, they may accidentally roll back or step back and fall down the stairs.

In one particular case, another library was named in a lawsuit alleging that the library was not handicapped accessible, Thompson said.

Even though a new library was under construction, the bathrooms still were required to be made handicapped accessible in the old library, he said.

Planning

Library planners design buildings for 20 years out so they are expandable, Thompson said.

Making a multi-purpose library building that would include village offices and the police department also is possible, he said.

Thompson recommended that a new building only be one story.

Because of the size and the shape of the Dairy State Bank lot, village board members have discussed the possibility of a two-story building.

Constructing two stories would require an elevator, which would add about $100,000 to the cost, plus the floors need to be built to hold 150 pounds-per-square-inch, Thompson said.

Building a one-story library on a slab, without a basement, is much most cost effective, he said.

The general rule-of-thumb for library construction is about $200 per square foot, Thompson said.

The Otto Bremer Foundation awarded more than $100,000 to Elk Mound to remodel the old Laundromat for a library, he said, adding that the Andersen Foundation also is in favor of funding libraries.

In addition to grants being available from various foundations, a Friends-of-the-Library group could launch a capital campaign to raise money to go toward the construction cost, Thompson noted.

Revenue limits

Ponto said she was concerned that increased operational costs for a new library, such as more money for heat and lights and more people working at the library, would put the village’s budget levy above the state-imposed revenue limits and that money would have to taken out of other village budgets to cover the library.

A new building would be more energy-efficient and also could be designed for self-checkout so that the number of library staff would not have to be increased, Thompson said, noting that the Hudson public library uses self-checkout.

The circulation would increase with a new library, so Colfax also would be receiving more money from Dunn County, he said.

On the county level, library funding is outside of the state-imposed revenue limits, so increasing the funding for the library would not create problems with the county’s revenue limits, Tripp said.

Jeremy Klukas, village trustee, wondered if the Dairy State Bank lot included enough room for parking to accommodate the size of the building that would be needed.

Beverly Schauer, village trustee, also pointed out that the site would need room for a stormwater retention pond.

Options

The options that can be considered include no new library, a new library that is a stand-alone building, or a multi-use building that would house the library, village clerk’s office and the police department, said Scott Gunnufson, village president.

“We need numbers for the space (needed), the cost, the benefits, the advantages and the disadvantages of the three options,” he said.

Considering whether to build a new library is stage one of the process, Ludwig said.

Architectural drawings and construction costs are stage two, she said.

Town hall meeting

Deciding whether to build a new library or a building that can house the library, clerk’s office and police department is not a decision to be taken lightly, Gunnufson said.

“We should get a consensus of the residents to find out what they think,” he said.

Gunnufson went on to say that by “residents” he did not mean only people living in Colfax, but also those who live in the surrounding townships who use the Colfax Public Library, which would even include some people living in Chippewa County.

As one gentleman in the audience put it — anyone who considers Colfax to be home, whether they live in the village or outside of the village, should weigh in on the question of what to do about the library.

One library board member pointed out that another question that must be considered — that people are going to ask — is what will become of the Colfax Municipal Building if the library, the clerk’s office and the police department move out?

For the purpose of a community meeting, preliminary estimates and a schematic drawing of how a library or multi-use building might fit on the Dairy State Bank lot would be sufficient, Gunnufson said.

Members of the Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Public Library Board agreed to work on getting numbers together for a presentation at a town hall community meeting.

The Colfax Public Library Board meets on the third Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m.

The Colfax Village Board meets the second and fourth Monday of the month at 7 p.m.