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Neuenschwander: Library campaign ‘come a long way’
Gary Neuenschwander
Gary Neuenschwander

To paraphrase a popular decades-old advertising slogan: We’ve come a long way.

But we’re not quite there yet.

Close, but not done.

As the Monroe Public Library nears the finish line of its $1.5 million fund-raising renovation drive, it’s hard to believe the library’s Board of Trustees first broached the subject back in 2012. While fully functional, the building at that time was losing its luster and the then 15-plus year-old furniture and paint was showing significant wear.

It was time for a facelift.

Enter George Lawson, a library consultant based in Ames, Iowa, who assessed the library’s public spaces and drafted a proposal for optimal utilization of space without major remodeling. Some of his recommendations can be seen today on the library’s first floor among them moving the nonfiction book shelving toward the rear and purchasing short shelving for media collections. The result? Freed up window space allowing for more patron seating, giving the library an open, airy feeling.

“Still, cosmetic changes didn’t solve space shortages,” said Suzann Holland, library director.

Additional meeting space was sorely needed, the building’s technological footprint had changed since opening and changes in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) left the library out of compliance on certain issues including accessible restrooms and new safety standards on the center stairway. If structural changes were made, the first requirement was to bring the facility up to current ADA code.

By luck, the architect who designed the conversion of the building from the Monroe Clinic into the Monroe Public Library, was working with Dimension IV, a Madison design firm. He came up with several alternatives on how to meet the library’s needs, including doing a partial infill of the second floor’s open space to gain more overall floor space.

The trustees felt immediate improvement on certain issues was needed and divided the project into two parts. The first phase gave the building a fresh look with paint, furniture and signage. It was completed in 2014 with cash on hand. When it became apparent that a second phase — the construction phase — would involve more time to assess needs, wants and a way to pay for them, it was delayed. In the meantime, immediate needs such as additional shelving was purchased, again with cash on hand, 

With the delay, came a few speed bumps. What did the library need? New restrooms and a renovated stairway topped the list but more meeting space, a new circulation area, revamped lobby and updated teen and children’s areas were also needed. Once total needs were identified, the challenge of transferring those needs into the building’s footprint began. Think of it as a puzzle — you start with a lot of pieces, try to find just the right fit for every piece and, after several attempts, come up with a completed picture, or in this case, a workable floor plan for each of the library’s three floors.

Then came the issue of funding and the need for a public campaign. Just as plans were moving along, the unforeseen happened. This one was bigger than a speed bump — more like a multi-car pileup.

COVID 19. Everything stopped. For months. And when things started to move again, another challenge popped up.

“Building costs have skyrocketed,” Holland said. “A cushion was built in the cost to see us through fluctuations but the pandemic has brought about drastic changes.”

Still the community has rallied and supported the current fundraising campaign. “The entire board is excited that the generosity of the community has made the library’s next chapter possible,” said Cathy Goray, one of the board’s trustees.

Contributions are still being accepted and may be sent to Holland at the library.

“We’re close — so very close,” Holland said. “The success of this campaign has thrilled all of us. We are excited to wrap things up and get started on the culmination of nine years of planning and dreaming.”

Long journey? Indeed. Worth it? You bet. And the clear winner? The residents of Monroe.

— Gary Neuenschwander is on the Campaign Committee for the Monroe Public Library’s “Let’s Do Something Extraordinary For Monroe” project.