The Beatrice Public Library Foundation has big plans to renovate the lower level of the library that could be completed as early as next year.
Members of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture of Omaha attended Monday’s regular City Council meeting to discuss some of the changes that may be in store.
“The objective was to fully finish the basement, so there was a lot of discussion about how to connect the upper level to the lower level,” said Michael Alley with the firm. “You’ll see in the plan a stairwell (in the central area of the building) that communicates the upper level to the lower level.
“Group study rooms get lots of traffic, so we wanted to add to those and enhance their functionality. There are a number of upgrades required that we’ll talk about.”
Some of the proposed changes to the library include a larger children’s area with computer stations and designated teen and “tween” areas.
The information commons area will feature eight computers easily visible by library workers.
The lower level where the vast majority of the renovating will be done will feature a genealogy center and permanent art display.
The proposed $1.4 million project would be paid for entirely by the Library Foundation, though the council will have to give the OK before work can begin on the city-owned building.
Currently, the basement of the library, with a bare floor under dim fluorescent lights, is used for some storage, but is largely vacant.
Because of its open space, the downstairs area has been used as a walking path that extends through the vacant area.
After being in use for around two decades, some walkers are upset at the notion they may soon need a new place to stretch their legs.
Sherry Patton and Elaine Heideman have each been walking in the library, built in 1991, since the early 1990s.
Walking an estimated three miles in 45 minutes every Monday through Friday, the pair agreed losing the walking track would hinder their daily workout.
“It makes you honest,” Patton said during a break from her Tuesday-morning walk. “No matter what the temperature or the climate is like outside, you have no excuse (not to walk here). I used to walk outside at 7 in the morning and if it was raining or snowing you wouldn’t go, but here there’s no excuse. If they take the walking away from us, we’re going to be unhappy. We don’t know where we’re going to walk.”
“We’ve known for years that they’ve talked about it,” added Heideman, who’s been walking at the library since 1994 as part of her medical rehabilitation following a fall. “I think it’s getting closer and closer.”
Library director Laureen Riedesel said at Monday’s meeting that plans to renovate the lower level of the library date back to 1999, but have been pushed back due to various reasons.
Although the city won’t be responsible for funding the renovation, it may need to contribute to the addition in a different way.
Last year, the council voted to cut funding to the library.
Its hours of operation were reduced from 65 hours per week to 56 hours per week, and a full-time position wasn’t filled when a worker retired. Riedesel said if the renovations are made, the library would likely need additional staff to manage the new area.
“I would be lying to you if I told you that we could just absorb that and not notice at all,” Riedesel said of managing the proposed lower level. “This does meet some needs that we have in terms of services that people want, but it wouldn’t be pretty if we took people the way we are right now.”
If the renovation is approved by the council soon and there are no holdups, the renovations could be completed in as little as a year.