Education

Library Gets $1.68M Donation for West Side Branch

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A $1.6 million donation from the Michael Kusalaba Fund will provide 60% of the money required to construct a new West Side branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, says the library’s executive director, Heidi Daniel.

In exchange for the donation, which Daniel and members of the library’s board of trustees accepted this morning, the branch will be renamed the Michael Kusalaba Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

“For us, this is just an incredibly special moment,” Daniel said.

The Kusalaba Fund is managed by the Youngstown Foundation. The $1.68 million donation is the largest single donation made from one of its funds, said Jan Strasfeld, executive director of the Youngstown Foundation.

“The spirit of giving that has infused the community – this is just the latest example of it, and just amazes me,” remarked Tim Bresnahan, a member of the library’s board of trustees.

Kusalaba, a former national account executive with Ohio Edison, moved to Youngstown with his family from West Germany as a child, and he and his siblings were frequent users of the West Side branch library.

“They went there every day. They brought armloads of books back with them,” Strasfeld said. “When their mom went grocery shopping, they went to the library.” Kusalaba often did homework and research there as well.

Kusalaba served as chairman of the Castlo Community Improvement Corp. board of trustees. He lived on a farm in Canfield and also purchased houses, rehabilitated them and sold them, then invested the proceeds.

Three months before his death in 2009, he approached Strasfeld about establishing a donor-advised fund, she recalled. Over the succeeding years, she discussed Kusalaba’s intent with his surviving siblings, who had “no clue” how much wealth their brother had amassed over his lifetime, she said.

Deciding to provide funds to the library was “a no-brainer,” the foundation director remarked. She subsequently contacted Daniel, “without showing my cards,” to discuss the library system’s plans.

When the discussions turned to plans for the West Side branch, it was “perfect,” Strasfeld said.

Addressing the West Side branch, which is “in sort of a state of disrepair” and needs modernization, is part of the library’s strategic plan, Daniel said. An earlier plan to locate the branch in the former ice rink warming house in Mill Creek MetroParks’ Wick Recreation Area was shelved in June.

The branch was built in 1928 and had its last major addition in 1972, according to Janet Loew, the library’s communications director.

“We were looking at different options. We finally landed on keeping it on Mahoning Avenue,” where it will serve a dual role as a branch library and a staging site for the system’s mobile and pop-up branches, Daniel said.

“It’s a really great solution to an internal problem in terms of where we house our outreach and mobile services, our pop-up library, and also what we were gong to do on the West Side,” the library director continued. “It allows us to create a unique model of service that we don’t have anywhere else in our library.”

The project is “really going to anchor this part of the city,” said Tom Frost, another library trustee.

The library will next put out a request for qualifications for an architect to begin designing the building.

“We hope to start construction in 2016,” Daniel said.

Pictured: Jan Strasfeld presents the ceremonial check from the Youngstown Foundation to David Ritchie, chairman of the library board of directors, and Heidi Daniel, library executive director.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.