COLUMBUS — Money continues to roll in for the library/cultural arts center project, although it’s still going to take a financial commitment from local taxpayers to turn the proposal into a finished product.
The city announced Thursday that a $750,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development was awarded to the project, moving the fundraising effort closer to the goal of covering at least half the construction costs with private donations, grants and library foundation money.
“The grant reaffirms the importance of the project’s development and the efforts of the many elected officials, library board members, donors and volunteers who have worked toward making the library/cultural arts center a reality,” a city press release stated.
“The competitive grant evaluation process focuses on the project’s planning and development, the benefit the project provides for current and prospective residents, public support for the project, financial support for the project and the project’s potential for driving economic development,” the release continued.
One of those areas — public support for the project — still must be addressed.
Columbus residents voted 1,768 to 1,517 in April against an $8.5 million bond issue to finance a portion of the project, which has an estimated price tag of $16 million. Those bonds would have been repaid with revenue from a local half-cent sales tax voters extended in May 2016.
Approximately $5.3 million has been committed to the fundraising effort led by the library foundation, including the NDED grant.
A survey process will begin next week to gather public input on the proposed library/cultural arts center and its financing.
Library Director Drew Brookhart said a phone survey will gather 300 responses and the same questions will be included in an online survey on the city’s website.
The goal of the survey, he said, is to determine why some voters opposed the project during the special election and what can be changed to sway their opinion.
“At this point we’re not sure what the primary forces were behind the no vote,” Brookhart said. “So the first order of business is to determine what those were or are, and then we can go about addressing them.”
Following the surveys, public meetings and focus groups will be organized to “refine the project” and ensure it meets the community’s wants and needs.
“In the meantime, we’ll continue to raise funds, and this grant is a great example of that,” Brookhart said.
The new library, planned for the former Gene Steffy Ford property along 14th Street between 23rd and 24th avenues, is currently proposed as a roughly 45,000-square-foot facility with a 300-seat auditorium, art gallery and makerspace.
Those new amenities got the attention of NDED officials while reviewing grant applications.
“The addition of a 300-seat auditorium will be a draw for visitors and the makerspace will provide much-needed STEM programming for the community,” Courtney Dentlinger, director of the Department of Economic Development, said in an email. “The downtown location will also help with the community’s quality of life initiative.”