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The Carnegie Building in Beatrice served as the town’s public library for decades before falling into disrepair and being left vacant.

A larger library that better met the town’s needs was built in 1991, and the Carnegie was left to sit.

And so it did, for more than two decades until the city decided to breathe new life into the old building.

In 2011, the Carnegie received a $1 million overhaul. The renovations featured new entrances, an elevator and helped modernize the building.

“The city fathers and some individuals within the community felt it was absolutely important to save that historical building, as opposed to tearing it down,” said Beatrice Mayor Stan Wirth. “There were those who felt that instead of spending all that money, it should be torn down. With the vision of the then council and those individuals that were really promoting the saving of the building; they’ve done a really nice job bringing that back to the historical level.”

Department of Economic Development grant funds provided more than $300,000 for the project.

The building was restored to its original beauty and is designed around an octagonal, domed rotunda by architect George Burlingh of Lincoln.

Today, the Carnegie is home to the NGage economic development group, Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce and Gage County Tourism.

Walker Zulkoski, director of NGage, said that having the three groups share a building is a major benefit, since some of their projects overlap.

“I think this is a cool space and it’s really important to be close to the Chamber,” he said. “We all work together closely and I think it’s good to physically be in the same building. There’s so much overlap that if you were in different spaces, I just don’t see it working.

“It’s important that the community buys into the success of the community. With what we have going on that takes community involvement. It really does take a village.”

Angie Bruna, director of the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce, also said it’s important for the groups to work together. It’s easier to work together when sharing a building.

“We have a lot of projects that cross over because while we all have unique identities and purposes, a lot of things we partner together on for success,” Bruna said. “Having NGage across the hall makes it so much easier.”

The building is available to the public to host events such as recitals, exhibits, and small conferences.

The building’s board room is also used by a variety of groups for meetings, and a variety of art displays are prominently featured on the building’s main floor.

“The upstairs board room just sets the stage when you have investors or people in town,” Zulkoski said. “It’s a good story to say that this is the lifeblood of a community and a perfect example of if you want something to happen people will get it done.”

The building was constructed in 1903 after the city received a grant from Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest and most charitable Americans at the time. It  was built to hold the city’s first public library.

It was the third Carnegie to be constructed in Nebraska, following Lincoln’s in 1899 and Fremont’s in 1902. It is currently the oldest one to remain standing in the state.

The Beatrice building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the mid-1970s.

Bruna said the building is a highlight of the area and one that reflects positively on the community when visitors make their way to Beatrice. In some instances, stopping at the Carnegie is a priority for tourists.

“I would say there’s always a good opportunity to take advantage of growing culturally and being exposed to things you don’t always get to see,” she said. “When people are coming to visit or ask where they should go, we say the old Carnegie library building and that it’s really cool. We have a lot of people who stop in and are excited to see the building. (It's) fun to hear people talking about what it was like as a library when they came in as kids and what this room used to be.”

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Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

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