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Board still fine-tuning plans for new library

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With the goal to start construction in 2010, the library building committee is working hard on revising plans for a new Fort Frances Public Library.

Library board chair Joyce Cunningham, who returned last week from the Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto along with head librarian Margaret Sedgwick, has been getting a better idea not only on what features the new facility must have, but how library boards elsewhere went about getting public input as to what they wanted.

“We’re learning from all of these visits that we’re going in the right direction and we’re very happy about that,” said Cunningham, who visited nine libraries with Sedgwick on their trip.

“Things are being reinforced,” she added. “As we see more and more of these libraries, and we talk to more and more people who have been involved—librarians, staff workers, and architects who specialized in building libraries, we see certain trends.”

One trend the pair has seen become more and more popular elsewhere in Ontario is libraries built near community centres—an indicator the local board made the right decision in recommending town council approve the corner of Second Street East and Reid Avenue as the site for the new public library.

“So we’re happy we’re doing what seems to be the trend,” Cunningham said.

“Not only that, but people who’ve done it have indicated a couple of things. One is their circulation went way up. They saw many new patrons.

“Secondly, although in some cases there was great controversy in the beginning, after the libraries were built, people became convinced that it was the right thing to do,” she noted.

Another trend is teens in many areas have been neglected in the past but libraries now are starting to try and cater to their needs—especially since whether or not they continue to use the library may determine whether they keep going there as adults.

“We have been trying to do more about that,” said Cunningham. “In the design of [the] building, we’ve realized they’ve paid more attention to areas for teens, places they want to be and what they want.

“And the other thing we had reinforced is that the whole accessibility issue has to be addressed,” she stressed. “The seniors have to be able to get in with their walkers and wheelchairs, the children have to be able to get in.

“The people who are visually challenged have to have accommodations made for them.

“And what we learned is that in buildings where they’ve met all these current standards . . . the rest of the patrons found the improvements helped them also,” she added.

“One of the things being emphasized over and over is libraries are not just buildings to store things in,” Cunningham remarked. “Libraries are places to meet the needs of the communities.

“If you accept that philosophy, members of the community should be able to get through the door, and in our community, many people can’t get through the door.

“And they should be able to move about comfortably and use the services when they’re there.”

Taking all this information into consideration, Cunningham said the local library building committee constantly is working on its plans for a new library.

“Locally, what we’re doing is learning more and more about what we need,” she explained. “We’re working on more conceptual drawings—not detailed architectural plans—but conceptual drawings so that the public will be aware of what we envisage, what can be.”

Currently, the plans are for a single-level design, with lower shelving and more open space, to ensure everyone will be able to access and use the library without being inconvenienced, as well as make room for the ever-increasing amount of books and other resources the library accumulates over time.

There will be space for a teen area, a separate room for library programs, a public meeting room, and quiet study areas. The new library also will have room for additional computers for public use and a parking lot large enough to accommodate all users.

The new building also will have increased seating space and an outdoor reading garden.

Cunningham said she’s been speaking to local groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, Business Women’s Network, and service clubs, to make them aware of what has been done and the direction the plans are heading—and to get their support.

“We also want to clear up misconceptions, and there are some,” admitted Cunningham. “One Margaret and I were just talking about is the ‘parking problem.’

“In the conceptual drawing, we are creating 46 spots for the library and there’s room to make a total of 110 new spots there for everybody. So we’re going to solve a parking problem, not create a parking problem,” she chuckled.

Another misconception is that some people have called the plans for a new library “a decision on a whim.”

“We’ve all been involved in this since 1995. We have not made any decision on a whim,” Cunningham stressed. “Every step we’ve made, we’ve carefully studied the issues before we made a decision, and we’ve continued to do that.”

Cunningham also noted communication is essential, and that the library board will continue to work with these groups, town council, and library patrons to get their input and address their specific concerns.

< *c>Fundraising

Cunningham noted a major fundraising campaign for the new library—which recent estimates place at costing just under $3 million—probably won’t kick into gear until this fall.

“The federal government and the provincial government, at this point, are emphasizing hardcore resources, like the sewers and the roads,” she noted. “We, however, are gearing up so that we will be ready with our campaign to start at a moment’s notice.

“If suddenly the provincial government came out with one of their grants that we could apply for, we’d gear up right away,” she stressed.

“We still have the building committee in operation, and we’re figuring out exactly how to structure that and where we will be going when we start.”

But Cunningham said that doesn’t mean the library isn’t accepting monetary donations towards building the new facility.

“We have established the building committee fund. People give money to us on a regular basis, and up until now, it has gone into operating,” she noted. “So, we are now saying to people who wish to give us money, ‘Would you be happy putting it into this special fund?’

“It is a separate, special bank account. We already have three or four thousand dollars in there,” she mentioned, adding this fund was first established with the passing of former resident Ron King last year.

Anyone with questions about the new library is encouraged to call Cunningham at 274-9248. Information brochures also are available at the library.

The public also may attend library board meetings, which are held on the third Wednesday of the month at noon in the library.

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