Public Library Breaks Ground on Kusalaba Branch

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The siblings of the late Michael Kusalaba left no doubt Thursday as to how their brother would have felt about the new library building that will bear his name in about a year.

Mary Ann Huwig of Alliance and Ray Kucalaba of Beaver Township – Michael had changed his surname to reflect its original spelling — were among those who attended yesterday’s groundbreaking for the Michael Kusalaba Branch Library of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County.

The Michael Kusalaba Fund of the Youngstown Foundation donated $1.68 million toward construction of the branch, which will replace the old West Library, 2815 Mahoning Ave.

“He loved the library, this particular one actually and also the [main branch on] Wick, and he appreciated what it could do for the community,” remarked Huwig. “This is something where his name will be a legacy because that’s something he wanted.”

An electrical engineer, Kusalaba spent his career with FirstEnergy and was a “hobbyist investor,” as Kucalaba put it. “He was pretty smart about it,” he remarked.

His brother also worked closely with the Youngstown Foundation to establish his namesake fund. “His No. 1 goal was to keep his bequest in the Mahoning Valley,” he said. “He didn’t want his bequest going all over the country.

“This is just perfect. This is just a perfect project for us,” Kucalaba continued.

“Although the road to get here today was long and winding, it makes it all the more satisfying to know that progress is going to be made starting today on a new community learning and gathering place that will be an asset for many generations,” said Heidi Daniel, the library system’s executive director.

Upon her arrival in 2012, Daniel was informed the library had a “pressing problem and a need on the West Side to address an aged building and a lack of good services,” she recalled. The library engaged in a series of community conversations to determine what was important to members of the community.

Maintaining the branch’s presence on Mahoning Avenue, one of the city’s main corridors, was “vitally important,” Mayor John McNally said. “There were other locations that were discussed, but the library, board of trustees and the residents realized that this was the place.”

Keeping the branch on the Mahoning Avenue corridor was the top priority for West Side residents because it was important for the development of the community, Daniel affirmed. It also was important that the new branch offer up-to-date technology as well as books and reading spaces.

“This is awesome to see someone coming back and impacting a neighborhood,” Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray said.

The city is “under construction,” from infrastructure projects like the Wick Avenue and Meridian Road upgrades to redevelopment projects like the downtown amphitheater and the new Chill-Can plant on the East Side, McNally said.

The branch will be part neighborhood library and part state-of-the-art technology hub, featuring technology not available at other branches, Daniel said. Among its unique features will be a sound booth and some 3-D printers there.

“We’re going to have fun hobbyist-type technology — things like light boxes for photographing objects or a scanner where people could scan and digitize their family photos,” she said. Other options include a button maker, T-shirt press or other things to allow patrons to “take part in that maker culture.”

The new branch, estimated to cost about $3.78 million, also will serve as the base for the Pop-Up Library, “which is a growing and vital service for our entire community,” she said. The library purchased its first van for the service this year and expects it will need to purchase another because of its popularity.

Daniel “wanted a very contemporary looking building,” said architect Ron Faniro of Faniro Architects, Youngstown, who also designed the Canfield, Newport and Tri-Lakes branches and has worked on renovations at the Main Library on Wick Avenue.

“She wanted the building to reflect that it was a tech hub so we took it in that direction, made it a very machine-like looking building,” he said.

Demolition of the West Library and clearing of the site should take about seven to 10 days, said Paul Brock, president of Brock Builders, general contractor on the project. He said he hopes to have the shell of the building completed by February or March, depending on weather.

Bricks from the existing structure, with an art rendering added, will be sold as part of the library’s capital campaign, Deborah Liptak, development director, said.

The library, which operates debt free, has set aside funds for the branch in addition to the Kusalaba donation, Daniel said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.