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Public Library Exploring Main Branch Renovation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Over the next couple of months, Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, will proceed with gathering information about a potential renovation of Main Library.

At its meeting Thursday afternoon, the library’s board of trustees voted to authorize Fifarek to seek community input regarding the proposed renovation to Main, which has undergone two major renovations since opening in 1907.

Fifarek will meet with various community partners and neighboring institutions including Youngstown State University, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown CityScape and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, as well as city officials. The library also will seek input from the general public at scheduled forums.

“If all of those things were to go well, my expectation would be that I would bring back in December at our regularly scheduled board meeting a request to officially proceed to the design process for the main library renovation,” she said.

Fifarek shared with board members an updated version of the PowerPoint presentation she presented last month to the library’s building and sites committee.

“Thing have changed over the years and the thing we really need in this building is space for people and modern uses that weren’t imagined back when these additions and remodelings happened,” Fifarek told the board.

“We need meeting rooms, we need study rooms, we need a café, we need places for people to gather, we need large space for big events to be held that can really show off the beauty of the building and all the things the library has to offer,” she added. Additionally, creating an event space using the main floor would provide new revenue opportunities and allow the library to bring in exhibits.

Along with the event space, Fifarek outlined other renovation elements, such as constructing an addition to accommodate a dedicated children’s space, restoring the former Wick Avenue entrance to the building, relocating the building’s elevator and restoring at least part of the building’s light well that has been obscured by prior renovations.

She also proposed removing the Wick Avenue access and replacing it with greenspace, relocating the entrance to the rear of the building and expanding parking using land the library owns there.

Costs for renovating Main would be in line with what the library has paid for other renovation projects in the system, she said. The library has $21 million set aside for a renovation to Main, which is part of the library’s strategic plan.

While Main is underutilized compared to other branches in the system, she maintained that is in large part to Main’s lack of adequate meeting space, comfortable furniture in comparison to the other branches and other amenities. However, Main has the highest computer usage, second highest annual circulation and is fourth in door count.

“Despite the fact that we are the fifth largest service area, Main outperforms many of our other libraries,” she said.

It also serves a population that has greater need because of factors including high levels of families in poverty with children, low median household income and low vehicle ownership,

“What will it cost? A lot, but not overly much. It’s in line with what we’ve been spending on other projects,” she said. “Is it worth it? If you ask me, I say absolutely.”

The vision she outlined also included renovations to the administrative space in the lower level that would centralize offices and utilize the surrounding area as collaboration space.

Fifarek told trustees she anticipated a phased renovation for the project. She recently viewed a historic library undertaking a similar renovation. During Urban Library Council’s annual forum, held last week in Baltimore, she visited the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Library, which is in the midst of a $115 million upgrade.

Fifarek’s predecessor, Heidi Daniel, who took over as the Pratt Library’s president and CEO last year, is overseeing that renovation.

“The building is amazing,” Fifarek said. “It is much larger than ours and they had the same thing happen where previous renovations have uncovered beautiful architecture and embellishments that we just love today.”

During her presentation, Fifarek showed a picture of a light well at the Pratt to show how much light could be brought into Main by restoring the light well there. Glass block had been removed during a prior renovation at Main and the addition put on in the 1990s, which included installation of the elevator, also blocked light from the outside.

Dr. David Ritchie, president of the library board, praised the work Fifarek and her staff put into the reports. He acknowledged his biggest concern about the proposed renovation was the extensive work that will need to be done to the building’s electrical, plumbing and air conditioning systems.

“We’ll have to probably rip everything out and put everything new in,” he said. “But we need that.”

Judy Schmutz, a member of the board’s building and sites committee, was enthusiastic about the prospect of renovating Main Library. “I’m just so thrilled to see it brought back to glory,” she remarked.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.