Education

Kusalaba Library Is More than a Home for Books

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – To those driving past on Mahoning Avenue or adjacent side streets, the newly built Michael Kusalaba Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County looks all but ready to open.

The building’s exterior is finished and bright, even on a dreary mid-January morning. An electronic sign with the library’s logo is ready to be turned on any day to advertise upcoming events. Wide windows flood the building with natural light.

Beyond those windows and walls is a community center close to – but not quite — ready to serve the public. Some shelves still stand empty, waiting to be placed and filled. Some electrical work remains to be finished, and equipment to serve one of the branch’s specific functions as well as some furnishings are yet to be moved to the branch.

In the next few weeks, those finishing touches that remain will be applied and library personnel will be trained in anticipation of the branch’s opening next month.

“We’re so happy to be almost ready to open. The building is not quite done but we’re getting there,” Aimee Fifarek, library executive director, said.

Ground was broken for the new building, 2815 Mahoning Ave., in November 2016. It was funded in part by a $1.68 million donation from the Michael Kusalaba Fund of the Youngstown Foundation. The new building was built on the site of the former West Library, which was demolished.

“It’s always easier to build new and create what’s actually needed than trying to adapt a building,” said project architect Ronald Cornell of Faniro Architects.

At 11,815 square feet, the Kusalaba Library is about double the size of the branch it replaces, he said.

The branch has “a very mid-century modern look to it,” with the wood and windows brining a “very warm and open feel about it,” Fifarek said.

The Kusalaba branch will serve roles in addition to being a community library. The maker space will feature equipment that includes a locally made 3-D printer, a laser engraver, equipment for transferring film images to digital and the “low-tech but very popular button maker,” Fifarek said, noting the equipment will be relocated here from the Main Branch downtown.

“We want this to be very tech-focused,” she said.

“In this library, you’ll be able to do things like come here and record a CD. There’s a recording studio in here,” Faniro added.

Ronald Cornell served as Faniro Architects’ project manager for the Kusalaba Branch.

The branch will serve as a “technology hub,” where patrons can test new technology, he continued. “If they like what they peruse in the library, there will be a vending machine here where they can borrow a laptop and take it home and try it out before they actually go out and purchase one,” he said.

The branch also will house the library system’s Pop-Up Library service, which brings library materials and services to areas that don’t have a library branch, along with schools and special events.

“We’ll actually have the collection that normally sits on the truck in the back of the library so it’ll be available for customers to browse,” Fifarek said. “Then when we get ready to go out to the schools or to community events we’ll take the collection and load it up.”

The library launched the pop-up service in 2013, and three years later it added a van it purchased for $150,970. The vehicle bay has space for two vehicles and the library has money budgeted for a second, but no decision has been made yet, Fifarek said.

The Pop-Up Libraries have been “pretty popular and we do want to continue to be able to offer library services to people who might not be able to get to any one of our libraries,” she continued. “And of course it helps our relationships with the schools as well when we can bring books out to them.”

Other features of the branch include a grove of sugar maple trees, funded by a $2,500 donation from Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association, and an outdoor lawn theater.

The branch is “100% changed” from the building it replaced, David Ritchie, president of the library’s board of trustees, said.

“It turned out well,” he said. “Once we get all these maker spaces in and so forth it will be something different than anywhere else. I hope people will utilize that.”

The library is happy to be back at the West Library’s original spot, Fifarek said. “We’re looking forward to welcoming all of the patrons back who were here before,” she said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.