Main Library Upgrade to Emphasize Workforce Development

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Workforce development will receive a special emphasis as a component of the planned renovation of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County’s central branch.

The library system already is seeing an influx of patrons looking to take advantage of existing workforce development options, Aimee Fifarek, the library’s executive director, told trustees Thursday.

With GM’s recent announcement that it would halt production of the Chevrolet Cruze at the Lordstown plant in March, workforce development is “very high in our minds,” Fifarek said.

The proposed renovation was going to include elements to support the library’s skills training, workforce development and interactive learning center, “but I think we’ll be putting special emphasis on that part of the project,” she continued.

At the board meeting Thursday afternoon, trustees authorized the library fiscal officer, Mark Mrofchak, to place and open bids for the architectural design of the main library renovation. The board also authorized its building and grounds committee to review the bids and make a recommendation to the full board.

The library held two public input sessions in October and took comments online about the proposed renovation. The building, an Andrew Carnegie Library, has undergone two renovations in its 108-year history, in 1954 and 1996. The library has set aside $21 million for the long-discussed upgrade.

“People are excited to think that the renovation could be happening. The most frequent question I get is when is it starting,” Fifarek told the trustees prior to the vote.

“It’s one of the hottest topics right now in the entire county,” said Dr. David Ritchie, board president.

Now is a good time to discuss renovating the Main Library given the recent announcement that Youngstown was awarded a $10.85 million federal transportation grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Build program, Fifarek added. Some of the funds will be used to establish an autonomous shuttle service for the downtown area that will drive past Main Library on East Rayen Avenue.

Thought is being given to how workforce development offerings will differ from the resources now available in the library’s job and career center, which opened in 2017.

“Regardless of what business you’re in these days, there is a technology component to it, so we need to get more creative about how we do skills training,” Fifarek said.

Aimee Fifarek, the library’s executive director, discusses the proposed Main Library renovations with members of the library’s board of trustees Thursday.

“A flexible, interactive learning space is a really good way for people who might learn in different ways,” she said. “You have visual learners, you have tactile learners who have to learn by doing, so we need to accommodate all of those learning styles.”

“We would like to expand our programs but sometimes we can’t expand within this space here. But I think we would be able to with the renovation,” Ritchie added.

The library is reaching out to union representatives to see what kind of help it can provide workers, and wants to get more information about what GM’s needs might be if it remains in the region. Vehicles of all sorts are becoming more prevalent, including autonomous ones, and they will be coming to the Mahoning Valley as well, Fifarek said.

If Cruze production isn’t extended, officials at various levels of government have lobbied for another GM product for the plant, including one of the 20 electric models the manufacturer plans to roll out in the next five years.

“There’s testing, there’s coding there’s all sorts of skills that people need to be looking at, so we want to make sure that we are targeting those specific skill sets and not just shooting in the dark,” Fifarek said. “And don’t forget the idea of entrepreneurship and people starting their own business.”

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