Will 2014 be 'The Year of the Library' in Milton?

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

MILTON—With two major public-private projects—the Parker YMCA and the Goodrich Square Splash Park—in the bag this year, look for 2014 to become the "Year of the Library" in Milton.

The Milton Public Library is gearing up for a fundraising campaign for a major renovation at the Shaw Municipal Building, and officials say $155,000 in city-funded work to expand the library to the Shaw building's second floor is likely to begin next summer.

It's some of the groundwork the library board and the city are laying now for a sweeping, $2 million to $3 million plan the library has to double its size and eventually redefine it as a community gathering place after Milton City Hall vacates the second floor of the Shaw building in June. 

The library, which has nearly 80,000 users a year, is now in 8,000 square feet on the Shaw building's first floor, but the project would expand it to both floors and create 16,000 square feet of space, officials said.

Library board President Bill Wilson said the board is still waiting on an independent capital campaign feasibility study that will measure potential support for the project, the bulk of which would have to be funded privately.

But the library's plan is to immediately ready a portion of the second floor as “flexible space” for library youth programs.

Wilson said the bulk of the work will involve tearing out partitioned walls that separate the current City Hall from another vacant part of the second floor that used to house the Milton School District's central offices. 

“Immediately, the amount of space for kids is going to increase tremendously. We'd make the second floor into useable shelving and seating right away,” Wilson said.

The city is bankrolling the bulk of the initial second-floor renovations at the Shaw building with $155,000 in cash as part of its 2014 budget. That work is part of a larger, $2.6 million plan to renovate the former Dean Medical Building at 710 S. Janesville St. as a new police department and City Hall.

City Hall will vacate the Shaw building in June, according to a city project timeline, and work opening up the second floor of the building could start soon after that, Wilson said.

The city-funded renovations are the first phase of a major overhaul of the Shaw building's second-floor revamp. According to the library's preliminary project plans, the second floor eventually could house:

--A children's library

--A children's reading room

--Youth creative play space or a student learning lab

--A study room and a family room

--A community commons area with a panoramic view of the former Milton College football field

That would open up the library's first floor for more quiet reading space, a dedicated computer space, a teen/young adult area and a quiet room, according to project plans.

Ultimately, it would cost anywhere from $2 million $3 million, and would hinge largely on the ability of the library to raise money through a capital campaign, Wilson said.

He said the capital campaign feasibility study, which is being done by Madison-based firm Sweeney Group, seeks to survey residents and local and regional stakeholders to takes stock of how much money a fundraising campaign could hope to raise.

The study also reviews what library plans could be most likely to get private funding support, Wilson indicated.

The library board and the city council will get a review of the study in January.    

“What we don't know now, and what we're looking to know is whether private dollars will come forward for us to do our ideal, dream version of renovations, or whether we'll have to do a more in-stages kind of conversion, making this unfold over the long-term,” Wilson said.

Wilson pointed out that the $4 million Milton YMCA project and the $350,000 splash park tapped private donors in the last few years.

“We don't know the degree to which there might be some donor fatigue,” he said.  

The city is working to help the library set up a privately controlled account for donations. While the library's fundraising campaign hasn't formally kicked off, some people already have donated for renovation plans.

City Council member Nancy Lader and her family recently donated $25,000 to the campaign, city officials confirmed.

There have been other smaller donations for the project too, that offer proof people are willing to support the library's expansion, Wilson said.

“Somebody (recently) walked into (Library Director) Lisa Brooks' office and handed her $1,000 in cash after they sold their boat. This is somebody who said, 'I've got a few extra dollars in my pocket, and I think the library is a good place to spend it.' That to me speaks volumes,” Wilson said.

Some early private donations could go to aid the city-funded opening up of space on the Shaw building's second floor. Wilson said that work won't be as “sexy” as the major plans to transform the building, but it's necessary to show progress and it could in turn fuel interest from other potential stakeholders.

He said the library board meanwhile plans to move forward marketing its grander plans for the future of the library.   

“What we ultimately want to accomplish certainly won't be done in that initial (city-funded) framework, but we really feel like we've got to hang on to a big-picture vision to really do a full project.

"We don't want to limit the vision and say, 'What can we do for a quarter of a million dollars?' and just settle to occupy space in a very minimal and sparse way,” Wilson said.

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