ELLSWORTH — Ellsworth Public Library’s bookshelves are tightly packed and its aisles narrow leaving little room for displays, programs and meeting space.
In mid-September, the library board will take the next step in the remodeling process and interview three architectural firms that have expressed interest in the project.
For several years the library’s space constraints, accessibility and physical conditions have been issues on the board’s radar. In 2012, members created the Building/Space Committee. The committee's responsibility is to access the library’s space and look into possible options to meet the community’s needs.
In August, committee members reviewed and chose the top three firms out of five that expressed interest in the project. The firms to be interviewed are Ayres Associates, Cedar Corporation and Kodet Architectural Group.
The Building/Space Committee will conduct the interviews beginning at 6 p.m. Sept. 16. As of publication it is unknown whether these interviews will be open or closed session, according to an email correspondence from Library Director Tiffany Meyer.
The library, which is less than 3,000 square feet, has a small meeting area in the back and a small computer lounge in the front, but lacks a study room and a private meeting space.
“Pretty much everywhere else is a tight squeeze,” Meyer said.
Meyer says space limitations impede the library’s ability to host programs on site. Some programs have to be held in the building’s lower level known as the Senior Center. The building’s two levels are not connected internally, so library-goers are forced to walk outside to enter the lower level.
There are multiple other issues with the building’s physical condition including accessibility. Visitors are required to walk up a set of cement stairs to enter the front door. The building has water damage, needs the carpet replaced and a new HVAC system installed among other updates
According to an Ellsworth Facility Review prepared by Indianhead Federated Library System — an organization that provides consulting to west central Wisconsin libraries — Ellsworth Public Library has been in the same building since 1932. In the early ’90s the library was remodeled, by then it had moved from the lower level to the upstairs.
Moving into the old BMO Harris Bank building was originally an option the Building/Space Committee entertained. However, an engineering assessment was made and the building committee was informed of the extensive renovation costs.
“It’s not on the table anymore,” Meyer said. “The Village Board had decided that remodeling that building was going to be too costly for them to more forward with, so they just took it off the table.”
The plan now is to expand the current building. Since this is only the beginning step in creating a plan, the Library Board is unsure how the remodeled design will look.
“We are really leaving that up to the firms,” Meyer said.
Once the interviews are conducted, the Building/Space committee will rank the firms. The committee is looking for past experience with remodeling projects from start to finish of libraries or similar buildings. The board also will be looking for firms that have experience working with old buildings and making them look new, and the firm’s ability to incorporate the needs of the library. Firms with a history of successful grant writing are another factor.
“Until we decide which firm to go with, we are in limbo again,” Library Board President Judy Perkins said at a Aug. 26 meeting.