The West River Branch of the Elyria Public Library is 24 years old, but people still refer to it as the "new" branch of the system, according to library Director Lyn Crouse.
That age means that it needs some work to meet the demands of the modern library-going public. So do most of the other buildings in the library system.
In order to accomplish this, the library has put together an ambitious plan to upgrade and expand its infrastructure. To pay for that work, the library is asking voters in the Elyria and Keystone school districts to support a 0.9-mill levy.
The levy would be in place for 30 years and generate $952,249 per year, which would be used to pay off the bonds taken out to finance the construction, Crouse told us.
"It's kind of like getting a 30-year mortgage," she said.
The work will be spread out across four of the library's five branches. The fifth branch is the Bass Library at Lorain County Community College, which the college and library have partnered on. The library provides a book collection and programming, but the college maintains the building, Crouse said.
The other branches are all in need of work or even new buildings entirely.
The West River Branch will be upgraded with new heating and air conditioning and high-efficiency windows as well as a new layout that works better for library patrons.
The library branch in LaGrange, which Crouse said is heavily used by the public, will probably triple in size from its 1,400 square feet with an expansion off the existing building.
The library also plans to build a new neighborhood library to serve Elyria's south side, although a location hasn't been found yet. It will replace the old South Branch, which closed because Elyria Schools needed its former home in the old Hamilton School building to make way for a new school. The South Branch is now operating out of the basement of Asbury United Methodist Church.
The largest project, however, will be replacing the Central Branch of the library on Washington Avenue, which also houses the library system's administrative offices.
Crouse said the building is "infested" with asbestos. Air quality tests have shown that it's not a danger to the public right now, but any work done would be massively expensive because the toxic substance is in every part of the building from the floor to the ceiling tiles and even sprayed onto the underside of the roof.
The cost to abate all of that asbestos, Crouse said, would run somewhere around $1.6 million, which is a huge expense for a building that's roughly 50 years old, will soon need a new roof and has a boiler and elevator as old as the building.
Crouse said the plan is to close the Central Branch and build a new facility, which would serve as both a library and offices for the administration on about
3 acres of land, although exactly where the library board doesn't know yet.
She said the Central Branch has traditionally served downtown, Eastern Heights and the Washington Avenue area and the desire is to construct the new building where it will be accessible to residents in those areas. That is a commendable commitment, but it would be better if the library had locations for its new facilities.
In total, Crouse said the library anticipates borrowing more than $15 million to renovate the buildings it's keeping and construct new ones. If there's any leftover levy money, which Crouse doubts there will be, it could be used for other library expenses.
Crouse said the library's board doesn't intend to build anything quite as grand as the West River Branch. Instead, she said, the new buildings would be one-story affairs. Keeping the buildings to one story would save money by eliminating the need for an elevator to serve disabled patrons.
"Sensible buildings is what we're going for, ones that will last 50 years and not be Taj Mahals," Crouse said.
The owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay $31.50 per year for the levy.
That's a reasonable price for a sensible plan to improve an important part of the community.
Voters should back Issue 39 and give the library the money it needs to build the system the public deserves.