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updated: 3/30/2012 5:47 AM

Hampshire library hunts for expansion money

Ella Johnson board looks to state grant, taxpayers

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  • The Ella Johnson Public Library in Hampshire is running out of room for storage. These boxes and others like them have found a home in the library director's office.

       The Ella Johnson Public Library in Hampshire is running out of room for storage. These boxes and others like them have found a home in the library director's office.
    Lenore Adkins | Staff Photographer


Because the Ella Johnson Memorial Library in Hampshire has outgrown its digs, officials are applying for a state grant that would help them build a new library. But whether the district gets the grant or not, officials likely will turn to taxpayers for help -- in the form of a referendum.

The grant would cover only 35 percent of the project that has a preliminary estimate of between $10 million and $11 million, library board President Barbara Brust said. If the district is fortunate enough to get the grant, officials still would have to secure the rest of the money to pay for the building within one fiscal year.

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That most likely would come in the form of a tax increase question on the November ballot, she said.

Next week, the board will meet during a closed session to discuss potential sites, as part of the grant process.

If the district doesn't get the grant, "the board is of a mind to proceed with obtaining full funding on our own," which would probably include a tax increase.

"What is the other option? There is no other option," Brust said. "We can't enlarge this building. We can't expand."

The building was designed to serve a district of 4,000 people. But today, with all the growth that has happened in recent years, the district's population is now 17,500.

The cramped library space has put a damper on offerings: The small story time room also must function as an office for two and storage, there are no community meeting rooms, and popular events sure to attract a crowd must be held off site.

"Gail Borden we are not," Brust said, referring to Elgin's enormous library.

Officials have also dealt with issues that often accompany an aging building. Three years ago, officials spent $60,000 to replace the roof on the roughly 50-year-old structure.

A larger library, now proposed at 30,000 square feet, would eliminate all the space issues, add parking -- the existing library doesn't have parking of its own -- and help the district adjust to modern times. April 16 is the deadline to apply for the grant.

"It boils down to the library wants to be able to provide the services that the district taxpayers deserve," Brust said. "Libraries now are no longer just sitting quietly and reading a book. We are as much part of a social media as a Facebook or Twitter."

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