Colfax Public Library town hall meeting draws 50 to discuss options

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  About 50 people attended a town hall meeting in what was the first step of gauging public opinion for what to do about a library.

“We want to find out public support of a direction,” said Scott Gunnufson, Village of Colfax president, at the February 25 meeting in the cafeteria at Colfax High School.

The town hall meeting was intended to gather the opinions of village residents and the opinions of people living in the public library’s service population area in surrounding townships.

The Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Public Library Board, through the town hall meeting and through an advisory referendum on the April 7 ballot in the Village of Colfax, are hoping to find out if people support building a new stand alone library; if people support building a multi-purpose building to house the library, the village’s administrative offices, and the Colfax Police Department; if people support renovating the basement of the Colfax Municipal Building for expansion; or if people support doing nothing at all and leaving the library and village offices as they are now.

The advisory referendum in the village will gauge support for one of the options from village residents.

Gauging the support of people living outside of Colfax but who are in the Colfax Public Library’s service area will be much more difficult.

The population of Colfax is a little over 1,100. The population of the Colfax Public Library’s service area is more than 4,000.

According to population statistics from the Dunn County Directory of Public Officials, in 2013, the Town of Colfax had a population of 1,222 (nearly double since 1990). The Town of Grant had 385 people (27 fewer than in 1990). The Town of Tainter had 2,359 (600 more than in 1990). The Town of Elk Mound had 1,825 (almost 1,400 more than in 1990). The Town of Otter Creek had 498 (about 150 more than in 1990). The Town of Howard, according to population estimates from the Wisconsin Department of Administration, has a population of nearly 800.

Checkouts

John Thompson, director of the Indianhead Federated Library System, told the people who had gathered at Colfax High School that 72 percent of the checkouts at the Colfax Public Library come from outside of the village.

The Colfax Public Library has 1,288 library card holders: 358 are village residents; 930 come from outside of the village, he said.

According to a chart in Thompson’s presentation, the Village of Colfax had 6,715 checkouts. The Town of Colfax had 9,495 checkouts. The Town of Grant had 1,622. The Town of Tainter had 1,444. The Town of Elk Mound had 1,359. The Town of Howard had 1,108. And the Town of Otter Creek had 953.

Out of an annual budget for the Colfax Public Library of $125,000 for 2015, Dunn County will provide a little over $74,000 in funding for those people who live in Dunn County outside of Colfax and who use the Colfax Public Library.

The library in Colfax is 1,800 square feet and has a maximum capacity of 36 people.

The Colfax Municipal Building was constructed in 1915, and the Colfax Public Library has always been in the municipal building.

The existing library space is not designed for the technology in use now. In 2,000, there was one computer for public use, but now there are six computers in the library, Thompson noted.

Not accessible

The existing library also is not handicapped accessible. The aisles between the book stacks are narrow and are not designed for wheelchairs. If someone could get a wheelchair down the aisle, that person would have to back out again because there is not enough room to turn the corner to get to the next aisle, Thompson said.

The circulation desk is too high to be handicapped accessible, and the ramp going up the south side of the building also is probably not considered handicapped accessible by today’s code, he said.

In addition, the back hallway where someone comes in from the ramp is not considered handicapped accessible, and the bathrooms are not handicapped accessible as well, Thompson said.

“If the ramp met ADA ten years ago, it may not meet the code today,” said Travis Schroeder, the architect with Ayres Associates who would be working on a design concept for a new library.

If the ramp does not meet code, then why was it not fixed before this? asked Colfax resident Jodi Kiekhafer, who also serves on the Colfax Board of Education.

Maintaining the ramp is part of the maintenance on the building, and the village should have been maintaining the building all along, she said.

The ramp can be reconstructed to meet code, but everything on the first level must be brought up to code, too, Thompson said.

Lack of parking is an issue with the existing library location as well. No off street parking is available for the people who use the library.

Cost

The most important question that people are going to ask is — how would a new library or a new multi-purpose building or a renovation of the existing municipal building be paid for, Gunnufson said.

The Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Library Board are not interested in raising taxes for anyone, he said.

A new building would have to be paid for with “aggressive fund-raising” that would include grants and donations, Gunnufson said.

A new library would most likely be more eligible for grants than a multi-purpose building that includes municipal offices, he said.

Renovating the existing building might be the least eligible for grants, Gunnufson said.

Building a new library would have a better opportunity for grants than building a village hall, Thompson said.

Renovation

One person in the audience asked if the choice were to remodel or expand the existing building, what would be done?

An elevator would have to be installed for all three floors to make the entire building handicapped accessible, Gunnufson said.

The handicapped accessibility of the entrance and the bathrooms and the library space also would have to be addressed, he said.

If the village’s administrative offices were moved out of the building and the library expanded to fill the entire first floor, renovation also would have to include reinforcement of the floors, Thompson said.

The requirement for libraries is 150 pounds per square inch because of the weight of the books, he noted.

Additional supports in the basement for the floor of the existing library were added several years ago.

Another person asked about expanding the building out into Tower Park.

The building could be expanded to the south, but there still would be no additional parking spaces available for library users, Gunnufson said.

Recent work on the municipal building done through the energy efficiency community development block grant also left “a mess of wires” in Tower Park, he said.

Wires and electrical conduit are now located throughout the park, Gunnufson explained.

If the library was expanded into Tower Park, part of the project would involve moving the wires and conduit that were recently installed, he said.

The library could be expanded into the basement, but the basement requires extensive work to deal with moisture problems and to remodel the space, Gunnufson said.

Dividing library services between two floors is not a good idea, Thompson said.

If a children’s library were located in the basement, the library would have to hire more staff so that people would be downstairs all of the time to supervise the children, he noted.

The village board would have no choice but to levy more in taxes to pay for the additional staff, and that would not be a sustainable situation, Thompson said.

Another person wanted to know what would happen to the Colfax Municipal Building if the library, administrative offices and the police department moved out.

If there were no village functions in the municipal building, the village board would most likely want to sell the building and put it on the tax roll, Gunnufson said.

The Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group has put a tremendous amount of time and money and energy into renovating the auditorium on the third floor of the building, he said.

If the village board sold the municipal building, it would have to be with the condition that the auditorium would remain for public use, Gunnufson said.

“We do not want to take away civic spaces,” he said.

Grant money would probably be available for historical renovation of the municipal building but not for bringing the building up to code, Thompson said.

Whole building

One person in the audience asked about constructing a building to house the village’s administrative offices and the police department and devoting the entire municipal building to the library.

Gunnufson said that would be one possible solution.

Another solution could be to build a stand-alone library and then the village administrator-clerk-treasurer’s offices could expand into the library space, Gunnufson said.

The existing library would provide a large space for the administrator’s and deputy clerk’s offices, a reception area and a village board meeting area, he said.

The existing clerk and deputy clerk’s offices and the village board’s meeting room could be turned into conference room areas or used for secure file storage, Gunnufson said.

Nursing home

One person in the audience asked about using the old nursing home building on High Street as a library.

Gunnufson said he had met with representatives of the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center and had learned that CHRC has a good tenant in the clinic portion of the old nursing home.

The CHRC board of directors would not be especially interested in selling the building, but would instead want the village to lease the building, Gunnufson said.

Leasing the building would eliminate any grant opportunities for remodeling, he said.

Site and location

One person in the audience wondered about proposed sites.

The site and location of a project would be determined by the function of the building, Thompson said.

A stand-alone library might fit better in one place, and multi-purpose building would fit better in another location, he said.

Dairy State Bank has offered the lot west and south of the bank, Gunnufson said.

“But is that too far out of town (for a library)?” he asked.

Another question is — does the Dairy State lot have room for a multi-purpose building, Gunnufson added.

The village board and the owners of the downtown businesses have some concern about moving the library away from the downtown, he said.

Lisa Ludwig, director of the Colfax Public Library, said Dairy State Bank had approached the library board about donating the site last summer.

The site west of the bank might not be large enough for a building, but the bank has offered the land south of the bank as well, creating an L shaped lot, she said.

The Dairy State lot would not have any room for parking, but Dairy State Bank has offered to share the bank’s parking lot, Ludwig said.

One person noted that Dairy State Bank is a long way from the school.

“Would you bus kids to the library? It’s too far for little kids to walk,” he said.

Another person noted that Dairy State Bank is in the industrial park, that there are no sidewalks, and that a number of semi-tractor-trailers go in and out of the industrial park every day.

Programs

One person in the audience wondered what additional programs would be offered if the library had more room.

Depending upon the wants and needs of the community, some libraries offer programming for homeschoolers, preschoolers and senior citizens, Thompson said.

Ludwig said she would love to do more programs at the library, “but there is so little space now.”

Attendance at children’s programs has declined over the years because of the lack of space, she said.

The summer reading program draws 50 to 55 children, and since they cannot all fit into the library, the program is taken out into Tower Park, Ludwig said.

“But then you hope and pray there is no rain or no thunderstorms,” she said.

“We don’t have programs like other libraries do because we don’t have room,” Ludwig said.

Another person asked about using the auditorium on the third floor of the municipal building for children’s programs.

The auditorium is not handicapped accessible, and the exits are a problem in case of a fire, Ludwig said.

“Services are what we want to increase. As a library, I feel we are doing a disservice to the community,” she said.

Increased use

One person in the audience wondered if there were any estimates for the percentage of increased use of the library if more space were available.

Roberts, which has a population similar to that of Colfax, built a new library, and the circulation tripled, Ludwig said.

County reimbursement for the Roberts library also tripled, she said.

“It sounds like a cliché, but you build it, and they will come,” Ludwig said.

The Roberts library has 7,200 square feet, compared to the 1,800 square feet in Colfax, she noted.

Another person in the audience said that while Roberts itself has a population similar to Colfax, the area surrounding Roberts has a much higher population than the area around Colfax.

Votes

People attending the town hall meeting were asked to fill out a survey sheet that identified the municipality where they live and to choose one of the options: a stand alone library; a multi-purpose building for the library, administrative offices and police department; renovating the municipal building basement for expansion; and leaving the library, administrative offices and police department where they are now.

If you are not a resident of the Village of Colfax and were unable to attend the meeting but would like to give your opinion, the survey forms are available at the village clerk’s office and at the Colfax Public Library.

Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said the village board would not be discussing any of the survey results from the town hall meeting until after the referendum in Colfax on April 7.

Residents in the Village of Colfax will be able to express their opinions about the library in the advisory referendum on April 7.