Library debate remains open book

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — As the Jasper Public Library building committee gears up for its fourth official meeting next week, the opinions of city residents remain somewhat divided on the issue of when, where and how to improve.

The Jasper library debate has been ongoing for about a decade. The board began discussing overcrowding at the 11,000-square-foot facility in 2004, but so far, no permanent solutions have been found. A 2011 referendum asking the public to accept a tax increase to construct a new building on South Newton Street for up to $7.3 million failed as votes against the move totaled more than 70 percent.

Since then, the board acquired the Gramelspacher-Gutzweiler Building from Vincennes University at 1103 Main St. for just $10, converting it into an annex to house staff offices and meeting rooms. In late 2012, the existing library got an overhaul, with new shelves, tables and computer desks to make the place more spacious. But even that renovation wasn’t enough to fix the library’s problems, according to some residents.

“The current floor plan might have added a few square feet for books, but placing taller shelves does not fix the major problem,” Jasper resident and avid library user Mary Roberts explained. “It created other smaller ones, such as the smaller patrons now have to use a step stool or ask for library assistance, which is also a challenge if the librarians are helping other patrons. Instead of receiving a real, long-term fix, the library receives temporary Band-Aids.”

Roberts has lived in Jasper the past 10 years and said she has grown increasingly weary of a debate which seems never to be resolved. Her preference would be for the committee to investigate a new site with more parking for patrons.

“Back in the day, I am sure being located in the center of town was ideal. People could walk to it and find it easily,” she said. “However, with population growth, the current parking situation gets frustrating when you have to park a few blocks away because there isn’t anything closer.”

For Roberts, there are many improvements which could be made once the library builds a larger facility.

“My library wish list would be a bigger children’s reading area and a bigger resource room for genealogy. Not to mention the possibility of purchasing and shelving more current books,” she said. ”I would also like to see several small reading areas, little semi-private desks so school kids could work on research papers without disturbing anyone yet able to spread their papers, and more elbow space for those using the Internet.”

Jasper resident Nicole Weisman shares Robert’s disappointment with the 10-year discussion.

“The process has gone on too long. We do need a bigger library so more books could be easily available for those who don’t care to purchase books and space for programs for adults, teens and kids,” Weisman said. “I’m disappointed smaller communities have figured out how to build a library when Jasper can’t agree on whether it should stay in the same location or not.”

A new Ferdinand Branch Library was constructed in 2008 and the Dubois Branch Library was built in 2010.

Some residents have even been brainstorming unique ideas for a new site. Steven Dunn said ideally, the city and library board would team up to secure a portion of The Parklands — a nature space created by the sale of the former Jasper Country Club property to the city — for library use. That area could also serve as a new site for an arts center, he said. Dunn frequently volunteers for the arts center and sees a need for updates.

“I just think that it would be of great value to the area and more centrally located as far as Jasper as a whole,” Dunn explained. “I think it could be larger and help to bring a little bit more culture to the area.”

But Dunn’s wife, Staci, disagrees with him.

“She thinks it’s fine where it’s at. She said that they’ve wasted too much money, she doesn’t want to have taxpayers pay for a new library,” Dunn said of his wife.

He can see her side, but added he would not be opposed to a tax increase — likely to be necessitated by any construction or updates to the current facility which cost more than $2 million — as long as the library board provided the public with a full plan.

“I have absolutely no problem with putting it to a vote in November if they come up with a solid plan and present that plan to the people,” he said. “Detail it out and say, ‘It’s going to cost this much to fix up the library that we have, or we can build new and this is what it’s going to cost.’ Without a solid plan, people don’t want to have their taxes increased.”

As Jasper works to revitalize its downtown and spots along the banks of the Patoka River, the building committee keeps returning to the importance of keeping the library in its central location.
Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz said he doesn’t delve deeply into library issues — the library levies taxes separately from the city and only one of the seven board members is appointed by the city council — but he thinks it would be helpful for committee members to keep the revitalization in mind moving forward.

“One thing that has changed significantly is the excitement that’s been generated through the downtown and riverfront master planning process,” Seitz said. “Maybe there are some opportunities which are now open to them, or maybe they will look and really feel that there’s a change in approach or tone or affinity for downtown.”

It is the board’s job to sort through all of these conflicting opinions when making decisions. Board President Bill Hewitt said he is approached often by residents who either hope the library will stay put or move to a new place. He and the board try to take public thoughts into account, and they also welcome public donations toward expansion or construction, which are kept in the library’s endowment with the Dubois County Community Foundation.

“I think most of the people would like to see it expanded where it is because of the neighborhood. At the same time, there’s a group of people who want a brand new facility, but there are other people who say that we can’t afford it,” Hewitt said. “They’re trying to figure out what is the future of the library. Is it going to be all electronic or is there still going to be some books? I don’t know what the answer is.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




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