Library Limbo: Will St. Joseph County Build or Renovate?

By: Kari Huston
By: Kari Huston

Author Alex Haley once said, “you can tell a lot about a community by its library”.

The Library Board is hoping St. Joseph County will be a supportive community and pass a bond issue that will reface and rebuild seven branches, including the Downtown South Bend Location.

“We are out of space,” says Library Director, Donald Napoli. “Our collections are at zero growth. Every book we add, we have to subtract a book or tape or video.”

Napoli adds that the location is in need of more parking and that the sections are poorly arranged for patrons.

“Popular library concept says such elements as fiction, new books, new periodicals, media, and children's all should be on the ground level,” explains architect Charles Engberg of Engberg Anderson Design Partnership Inc. “This way people don't have to go up and down in escalators or elevators to get to them.”

The Milwaukee design firm told the Library Board they have several options for the downtown branch: building up, by adding a third story to the existing location, building out by expanding the entire block East to Michigan Street, or tearing down the 20-year-old building and starting new.

A new downtown library would cost an estimated $35 million. By comparison, renovation would cost approximately $30 million.

“We will be paying off two bond issues by the end of this year,” Napoli says. “What we would do is replace the bond issues with new bond issues. Theoretically you won't see any increase in taxes as the result of this.”

The board could decide to renovate the Roger B. Francis Branch on Ironwood, along with four others and build a new branch in German Township, putting off the Downtown South Bend renovation indefinitely.

Board members promise to "read up" on their options and vote at their next meeting January 22nd.

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