Final countdown

Big Rapids Community Library Renovation Team needs to raise additional $95,000 to meet City Commissioners’ expectations before moving forward with project


SEEKING SUPPORT: Renee Jensen and her son, Ryan, of Stanwood check out DVDs at BRCL. The renovation team is seeking another $95,000 in community donations by the end of May in order to move forward on the renovation project.

BIG RAPIDS – Although final approval from the Big Rapids City Commission still is pending, plenty of action has taken place in efforts to support the Big Rapids Community Library renovation project.

The renovation team has 45 days or less to meet city commissioners’ expectations for fundraising and thereby advance the project.

Fundraising for the proposed $860,000 renovation project began in August. City officials pledged to contribute $300,000 toward the project once the BRCL Renovation Team also raised $300,000. Another $60,000 will come from the Friends of the Library group, and $200,000 is expected to come in the form of contractual fees from the seven townships served by the library.

In seven months, the fundraising committee of the nine-person renovation team has collected $168,000 from private donors, area businesses and grant funding. The Friends of the Library pledged an additional $20,000, and City Manager Steve Sobers has verbal commitments for another $15,000 from various donors. All funding sources considered, the renovation team has raised $203,000 – or 67 percent – of its necessary $300,000 contribution toward the project.

“We need another $95,000 or so,” Sobers said. “I’ve been trying to tell commissioners if fundraising can reach the $250,000 level in the next 45 days, they should be confident the rest will come in.”

Shooting for a end-of-May deadline to garner commissioners’ final approval and move forward on the project, the renovation team is seeking a final surge in financial support.

“We’re in our final push,” said Miriam Andrus, interim director of the library. “We want to get the plans out to bid (for contractors) by the end of May or June. We’ve got to raise as much money as possible as quickly as possible to get the bid going.”

In June 2012, the city approved PKB Architects, based in Cadillac, to develop floorplans for the renovation. Since then, the project has been in limbo waiting to finalize funding before seeking bids for a construction company to complete the project. If all goes as planned with construction beginning this summer, the renovation should be completed by May 2014.

Funding sources

Funding from several sources is needed to move forward with the proposed $860,000 renovation of the Big Rapids Community Library. Below is a break down of money raised so far and what’s left to be raised:

  • City of Big Rapids – $300,000 that the city had saved for the project, pending the renovation team’s ability to raise matching funds.
  • BRCL Renovation Team – $300,000 goal. The team has about $188,500 in guaranteed pledges right now, with another $15,000 in verbal pledges expected to come in. Of the guaranteed pledges, about 63 percent has come from the general public, 19 percent has come from businesses and clubs, about 10 percent has come from additional donations from the Friends of the Library and about 8 percent is from grants.
  • Township contributions – $200,000.
  • Friends of the Library – $60,000.

During construction, the library’s book supply will be relocated to the Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education. In order to disrupt operations at Ferris State University’s library as little as possible, the move should be completed in July – before fall classes begin. The Summer Reading Program still will take place at the current library building this year. To be ready for the move by July, bids needs to be out and back with the city commission’s approval by the end of June, Sobers explained.

Thus the 45-day countdown.

“If commissioners don’t (approve the project), everything starts to float back a bit,” Sobers said. “We remain very hopeful we’ll meet the deadline and have a renovated library in a little more than a year.”

All members of the city commission, department heads at the city and library board members have donated to the renovation fund, which Sobers said should signal to citizens how invested officials are in the upgrade.

Wendy Nystron, a member of the library’s fundraising committee and vice president of Friends of the Library, emphasized that this renovation is different than other upgrades made to the library over the years.

“This is a complete overhaul,” she said. “This is not something to fix it to get through the next 10 years, this is not a Band-aid project.”

BIG PLANS: The graphics show what the Big Rapids Community Library will look like after its renovation. The $860,000 project will create a more inviting atmosphere at the library and allow patrons to take advantage of services offered. (Courtesy graphic)

Plans to renovate the library, which was built in 1916 as a school, include:

  • Bringing the floors up to code to accommodate heavy bookshelves;
  • Adding a community room downstairs that groups can reserve even outside of the library’s regular hours;
  • Waterproofing the exterior;
  • Refinishing interior walls and opening up the layout to make the rooms more aesthetically pleasing and modern;
  • Redoing the HVAC system to make it more efficient and quieter;
  • Adding more seating and reading areas;
  • Adding computers and a separate computer room;
  • Doubling the size of the children’s room;
  • Creating a designated teen area;
  • Adding a room with a fireplace designated for popular reading materials like newspapers and magazines;
  • Installing bathrooms on every level, a circulation desk on the main level and upstairs; and
  • Upgrading the elevator and security systems.

Andrus is excited to see such a dramatic upgrade to the facility for the relatively modest price tag of the renovation that does not include a tax increase for Big Rapids residents to foot the bill.

“We can have all the services in the world, but unless people want to come into the building to use those services, it does no good. We really hope renovating the building will encourage people to come in and use those services. Our building will match the services we provide the community,” she said. “One of the biggest issues we’re facing is that a lot of people have not been to the library in so long because of the way the building looks. We’re trying to get back out in the community and let them know the services we offer.”

COMMUNITY RESOURCE: Library assistant Chelsea Mitchell helps a child with a craft at the library. BRCL serves residents of the City of Big Rapids and seven townships. (Pioneer file photo)

PKB Architects was hired to work out specifics of the Big Rapids Community Library renovation. The graphic shows what the completed library will look like. (Courtesy graphic)

As the renovation team continues to seek donations toward their $300,000 goal, other complications have called into question the $200,000 contribution expected from townships.

In the early 1990s, the seven townships served by the library signed contracts with the city stating that each year they would contribute 0.3 of a mill to the library through penal fines. If the penal fines didn’t add up to the amount of 0.3 of a mill, the townships were required to make up the difference. The state requires these contracts to qualify for state aid.

One mill equates to $1 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

For numerous years, the penal fines were enough to cover the 0.3 of a mill required by the contracts and the townships did not have to pay out of pocket.

During the 2002-03 fiscal year, a majority of the townships’ penal fines were no longer enough to cover the amount owed to the city. That trend has continued for the past decade, with the difference between penal fines and 0.3 of a mill steadily increasing each year. Collectively, the township’s owe the city about $225,000.

Support from the townships

The City of Big Rapids is asking Big Rapids, Green, Colfax, Grant, Home, Norwich and Barton townships to make good on service contracts they have with the Big Rapids Community Library. The following is a breakdown of how much each township owes, according to city officials.

  • Barton Township — $20,821
  • Big Rapids Township — $98,216
  • Colfax Township — $31,133
  • Grant Township — $17,013
  • Green Township — $16,450
  • Home Township — $15,112
  • Norwich Township — $26,604

City Commissioner Lorraine James raised the issue of the townships’ contributions to the library during a meeting on Monday. Mayor Mark Warba said he is continuing to discuss the issue with township officials. Bills have been sent to two townships that requested them.

Sobers hopes the other townships will follow suit in paying their allotted amounts.

“If the citizens come through from all over the region with support for the library, if the city commission comes through with support for the library, if the Friends of the Library come through with support for the library – exceeding its original pledge – then I would be very, very disappointed if for some reason the rest of the townships did not come through when all the other funding groups did,” Sobers said.

In the meantime, Andrus and Nystrom asked city and township residents to write letters of support for the library to their elected officials and to donate to the renovation.

How to donate

Individuals, clubs or businesses that would like donate to the Big Rapids Community Library renovation can do so by dropping off a check at the library or the city treasurer’s office. Checks also can be mailed:

  • To the library, at 426 S. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids, MI 49307; or
  • To the Office of the Treasurer at Big Rapids City Hall, 226 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids, MI 49307. For more information on the renovation, visit Facebook page “Big Rapids Community Library Renovation” or call the library at (231) 796-5234.


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