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Majority of referendum votes and surveys say “do something” about the Colfax library

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — Referendum voters and survey respondents agree: “do something” about the Colfax Public Library.

The Colfax Public Library Board met April 8 to discuss the referendum results and surveys gathered at the town hall meeting in February and surveys gathered at the library.

The advisory referendum in the Village of Colfax April 7 only included a portion of the library’s service population.

The population of Colfax is a little over 1,100, and the service population for the Colfax Public Library is about 3,000.

Village referendum results revealed that 40 people voted for a new stand-alone library; 32 people voted for a multi-functional building to house the library, village administration and police department; 41 people voted to renovate the municipal building basement; and 63 people voted to keep the library, administration and police department where they are now.

The four questions approved at a joint meeting of the Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Public Library Board on January 19 were, “Do you support the construction of a new stand-alone library?” “Do you support the construction of a new multi-functional building (library, administration, and police department)?” “Do you support renovating the municipal building for expansion?” “Do you support keeping the current library, administration, and police functions in the municipal building?”

The question that appeared on the ballot April 7 pertaining to renovation of the basement was not the question approved by the village board and library board.

At the time of the discussion between the village board and the library board in January, board members decided to keep the question about renovation of the municipal building more general rather than limiting it to the renovation of the basement.

The question that appeared on the ballot asked about renovating the municipal building’s basement for expansion.

During a joint meeting of the Colfax Village Board and the Colfax Library Board last August, it was reported that in 2013, the Colfax library had a total circulation of 28,094 and that people living in the townships surrounding Colfax account for 60 percent of the library’s circulation.

Dunn County provides 60 percent of the funding for the Colfax library to account for those people living in the surrounding townships who use the library.

64 percent

Kitz Cleary, the Dunn County Board representative on the Colfax Public Library Board, pointed out that the number who voted for a new library, for a multi-functional building or for renovating the municipal building amounted to 64 percent.

“Sixty-four percent said ‘do something.’ Sixty-four percent of the total voted for new construction of some kind,” Cleary said.

“It is our task to look at what to do,” she said.

People who attended the town hall meeting in February learned that renovating the municipal building for a library could include building an addition that would extend out into Tower Park.

According to information provided by Lisa Ludwig, Colfax library director, out of the total number of library card holders — 1,288 — 358 live in the village  and 930 live outside of the village.

The Colfax Public Library was always believed to be 1,800 square feet, but recent measurements show that the library is actually 1,246 square feet, she noted.

Library users

The same surveys distributed at the town hall meeting were available at the Colfax Public Library for library users to fill out.

A total of 33 surveys were completed at the library, and out of that total, 97 percent said “do something” — build a new library; build a multifunctional building; renovate the building.

A total of 73 percent of the respondents voted for a new stand-alone library, while 16 percent voted for a multifunctional building.

A total of 8 percent voted for renovating the building, and only 3 percent voted for keeping the current functions where they are now in the municipal building.

Town hall meeting

Of those who filled out surveys at the town hall meeting in February, 82 percent said “do something.”

A total of 48 percent indicated they would support a new stand-alone library, while 12 percent indicated support for a multifunctional building.

A total of 20 percent voted for renovating the building, and 20 percent voted for keeping the library, administration and police department in the existing building.

Combined

Looking at a combined total of advisory referendum votes, town hall survey votes and library surveys, 34 percent indicated they would support a new library; 17 percent would support a multi-functional building; 21 percent would support renovating the municipal building or the basement; and 28 percent supported keeping everything as it is now.

The combined total of those indicating support for a new library, a new multi-functional building or renovation of some kind is 72 percent.

Doing nothing

Ludwig said that after the advisory referendum on Tuesday, she heard from several people who said they were not sure what the last option actually meant about keeping the library, administration and police department in the municipal building.

“Did it mean, ‘keep it here and do something?’ Or did it mean, ‘keep it here and do nothing?’” Ludwig said.

The people Ludwig said she talked to wondered if keeping the functions in the municipal building meant interior renovation.

“Even doing nothing will cost something,” said Willem Gebben, library board member.

Bringing the Colfax Municipal Building up to code for handicapped accessibility will cost a fair amount of money, he said.

The municipal building will need an elevator that stops at all three floors, a new fire escape, a renovated back exit, and new handicapped accessible bathrooms, Gebben noted.

At the town hall meeting in February, John Thompson, director of the Indianhead Federated Library System, said the bathrooms and the hallways by the bathrooms are not handicapped accessible and need to be wider so they are accessible to people in wheelchairs.

The basement also would have to be renovated to make it a usable space, Gebben noted, adding that first, the moisture problem in the basement would have to be solved.

Colfax Library Board members agreed that it would be useful to know how much it would cost to bring the Colfax Municipal Building up to code and to make the basement usable again.

A handicapped accessible ramp is located on the south side of the building, but Ludwig said it is not used very often because the back door is heavy and difficult for people with mobility problems to open.

Keep out

The difficulties for people with physical disabilities to get into the municipal building “keeps people out of the process,” said Lori Halpin, library board member.

Because it is hard for some people to get into the building, they are kept out of the process of voting, and they are kept from being able to use the library, she said.

“We need to do what is right,” Halpin said.

Library board members noted that in the past, many activities were held in the Colfax Municipal Building, either upstairs in the auditorium, or downstairs in the basement: school plays; dances; roller skating; dartball leagues; Boy Scout meetings; Girl Scout and Brownie meetings; and the senior nutrition program, to name a few.

“The community cannot come together in this basement anymore,” Halpin said.

The basement became off limits and unusable because of water problems in the late 1990s, Ludwig said.

“When the community center left, the community function left,” she said.

The auditorium of the building was closed off to the public in the late 1970s.

“All of those (activities) that were centered here have scattered. We have lost the community center feeling of the village hall,” Ludwig said.

The Colfax Municipal Building “is beautiful,” Halpin said.

“But now it no longer serves its purpose,” she continued. “It served its purpose for many years, but no longer.”

Construction on the Colfax Municipal Building began in 1915.

Next step

Ludwig said she would ask Thompson what he would recommend for a next step.

Since the village’s advisory referendum only asked the opinions of a portion of the library’s service population, “it’s not a done deal,” she said.

After the process of seeking Requests for Proposals to start the process of considering a new library, Ayres Associates was selected by the village board and library board, Ludwig said.

In Phase 1 of the proposal, Ayres would identify the stakeholders, would identify people to serve on a committee and would hold community meetings to discuss a possible library project, she said.

“Ayres is ready to begin helping us,” Ludwig said.

“Write up a recommendation (based on Phase 1) for the library board for the next meeting,” Cleary said.

The other library board members agreed with Cleary’s suggestion.

“We should also find out how much it would cost (to make) the basement useful,” said Mark Halpin, village trustee and the village board’s representative on the library board.

Ludwig said she would talk to Travis Schroeder — the architect with Ayres Associates who would be working on Phase 1 — to obtain additional information and recommendations.