City to pursue federal funding for library project

The city of Vermillion will pursue funding from the United States Department of Agriculture's Community Facilities Program to help alleviate some of the costs for a city library expansion project that so far is still in the discussion phase.
The money the city hopes to receive will come in the form of a $250,000 grant, and a $300,000 loan.

"As were looking at the library expansion project, we are trying to maximize funding sources other than city funds, and one of those that we are looking at is the USDA Facilities Program," City Manager John Prescott said at Monday's meeting of the Vermillion City Council. "We should be able to obtain some grant funding for our library addition project."

This program is designed to serve communities under 20,000 in population.

"This program is structured so that you would take out a $300,000 mortgage or loan that you would pay back to them over the course of 10 years," Prescott said. "With the stimulus bill of last year, there are some stimulus funds in the community facilities program. We're hoping to obtain approximately $250,000 in a USDA grant, and we also have to take out the loan to get the grant dollars.

"We would borrow the $300,000 from USDA to make up that eligibility for the project," he said.

Monday night the city council approved the very first step in the pursuit of those dollars by passing a resolution that authorizes Prescott to submit pre-application documents that will submitted to the USDA.

That government agency will then determine, after reviewing those documents, whether Vermillion is eligible to complete a full application.

"This does not obligate us to the grant or the loan at this point in time," Prescott said. "This is step one in the process; this is simply is an opportunity for us to do the pre-application. We would have a much better idea of the funding that we might be eligible for upon completion of the pre-application process."

Currently, several proposals designed by Architecture Incorporated, a Sioux Falls architecture and design firm are set up in the lobby of the library, and citizens are urged to give their input to library staff and members of the city library planning committee concerning the improvements they would like to see, and the costs of the project.

The library planning committee is currently working to develop a building proposal with an estimated price tag of approximately $2 million.

That may mean some proposals offered by Architecture Incorporated will likely be modified, including an idea to add a second floor addition over a portion of the present library structure.

"We have been working on a plan to try to make the project perhaps a little more affordable," Prescott told the city council, "and still meet what we believe are the needs of the library. We have made some substantial changes, but still we are meeting the mission of the library. Most notably, we have removed the second story from the project."

Earlier plans called for constructing a second story over the adult stacks in the library building.

"To bring the project into a little bit more of a cost-effective mode, we have eliminated that second floor," Prescott said.

To compensate for the deletion of second floor space, the current building plans have been altered, he said, to expand what will be known as a multi-purpose room.

It is proposed to add about 800 square feet to the children's area in the library. "We did that by taking the slanted wall which runs from northwest to southeast and we squared that out," Prescott said.

He described several other alterations that have been made to the expansion plans in recent weeks as the library planning committee continues to work with architects.

"Progress continues; the library addition committee is meeting on a weekly basis refining this, honing this, with the core idea of thinking about the purposes of the library that we need to address for the future," Prescott said.

Construction on the library is planned for the spring of 2011.

"The focus has been on the core mission of the library," said Alderman Kent Osborne, who chairs the library planning committee. "We've asked ourselves whether can we fulfill the needs of what we need to do for the foreseeable future by making changes to the floor plan of what we have now."

By focusing on the option of expanding the library's current community room into a multi-purpose room, and making other changes to the existing library building, the committee has determined that future needs can be met without constructing a partial second floor on the library building, he said.

"We're really beefing up the ground floor, and I guess it will be up to the city council to decide if they want to put a second story on for more meeting space," Osborne said. "Does that meeting space for various community groups go to the core mission of the library? Well, yes, but could those be served in other places? It caused us to look at the plans and scrutinize the square footage in certain places. I think what we've got is a leaner, meaner sort of design without that second floor, and the byproduct is it did reduce some of the costs."

"One of the bid alternates that we had talked about was whether, if you don't put the second story on right now, it would be feasible to put in the substructure," Mayor Jack Powell said, "so that at a later point, you would have the substructure available when we may have the resources available to put on a second floor."

Kid's program participation at the library has expanded from about 2,000 children in 1978, to 8,455 children in 2009. The adult and young adult programming needs room to expand, too, Librarian Jane Larson told the Plain Talk earlier this summer.

Larson, who has worked at the library for more than 25 years, sees an immediate need for more technology in the building. The library's current technology center has only six computers, yet to adequately support a community the size of Vermillion, the library should have 10 computers, she said.

There is little room to house the collection of books, VHS tapes, CDs and MP3 players, either.

The 11,000 square foot building was designed in 1965. When the facility was built about 13 years later, the city council cut the size of it by nearly a third to offset higher prioritized costs for the city. In the late 1990s, the library had a major renovation.

But the latest library project took off again this spring when Prescott created a library planning committee, made up of members of the library's board of trustees, city council members and people from the community.

Especially in recent years, the Vermillion library has become a very important part of city, and the numbers reflect that. In 2009, the library had 32,270 visitors.

"People are being more connected to the library and especially in these economic times, people are using the library more," Larson said. "We have a lot more opportunities, too. It fits people's desires more.

"The library is part of a community center to make people life-long learners," she added.

For more information about the building and expansion project and the current proposals, visit the library at 18 Church St., or go to the library's website at vpl.sdln.net.

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