It’s no secret that building a new public library in Columbus would cost a sizable amount of money. It’s also no secret that a chunk of that expense would be footed by taxpayer dollars.

In the years following city residents no-voting an $8.5 million bond order in 2017 to design, build and furnish an approximately 45,000-square-foot facility on the grounds that will soon house the new police station, Library Director Karen Connell and others went back to work figuring out what went wrong.

Recent survey results show that price is still a looming concern. Connell said that recent survey results regarding a proposed new facility show that 32.25 percent of survey takers said that overall expense would be their biggest deal breaker, followed by just under 21 percent saying that a lack of child services expanding could cause them to be against a new build. Seventy-three percent of survey takers overall indicated that they are in favor of a new library facility.

While money discussions will inevitably hang thick in the air leading up to library officials’ goal of presenting a project to voters in fall 2020, the green stuff didn’t monopolize conversation during Thursday’s town hall meeting held in a second-floor gathering area inside of Columbus Public Library.

It was much more about having the public discuss what it would like to see included with the proposed new facility. Discussion was led by three members of the Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture firm, the company which designed the proposed layout previously terminated by voters. The approximately 40-50 people in attendance listened while Nancy Novak, an interior design specialist for the firm, talked about what the future of libraries looks like.

That look is vastly different than what it was when CPL first opened its doors in 1977.

“When this library was first housed in this building, they were very quiet places – really places where books were housed, there wasn’t a whole lot of programming going on at that time,” Novak said. “They were places where you could go, and it was pretty quiet, just not nearly as interactive as the library of today. So much has happened since 1977.”

Predominantly, she said, the boom in technology. While there is still a want and a need for people to be able to hold hard copies of books and flip through their pages, a library is now a hub of interaction and learning for both children and adults. There are still quiet, comfy places for people to read books, but there’s also a lot of other activities – sometimes not so quiet – happening simultaneously under the same roof.

Attendees broke off into three discussion groups to chat with a group leader – one of the three architecture representatives present – about what they wanted to see in the new building. The majority of discussion in group No. 3 revolved around the idea of a maker’s space and a community gathering room.

The maker’s space is a place for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-related activities to take place. It’s a mecca of learning that could have 3-D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines and even woodworking material available for patrons to benefit and learn from. There is a current maker’s space, but it’s limited with what it offers.

Members of discussion group three who spoke indicated they were in favor of a new facility that had lots of accessible STEAM equipment for youth and adults to benefit from. Most children, one participant noted, are already up to speed on how a lot of the equipment that would be installed works, so there wouldn’t be too much of a learning curve.

What equipment would be housed in the maker’s room, as well as equipment upkeep and how times-slots for usage would work, were all briefly touched upon.

Regarding a community meeting room, Novak said that a common feature of new libraries is a multi-purpose community room located near the front of the building. Spread throughout the libraries are then generally six or seven meeting rooms. In a town the size of Columbus, it would be pretty typical to have a community room that can hold 150-200 people.

Those in the group seemed in favor of a community gathering space, but not one with a set stage and not one too big. One member noted that it should have an intimate, personal feel, while also being able to be utilized by a variety of different groups and organization.

How revenue would be generated – or how pricing would be set for using the space – is still something being discussed, Novak said.

Not everything topic of discussion could be hit upon during the hour-or-so town hall, but it simply played right into what the city and library officials are trying to accomplish: a sense of real transparency with the process.

“Tara (Vasicek) and I have been going around to different community groups and we have sent out the online survey to different organizations, and we are just trying to get as much public feedback as we can throughout the whole process,” Connell said.

If a new library is something voters in the next year or so decide they want, it should be a place that draws in people, coming from all different walks of life, through its doors, Novak said.

“We often refer to the library as the heart of the community,” she said. “It’s become a very social hub, an interactive place for social learning and gathering.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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News Editor

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram, Schuyler Sun and The Banner-Press newspapers. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015.

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