Library future still cloudy
March 06, 2013 10:50 AM
by RANDY WELLS

The most recent bid to bring long-term stability to the Indiana Free Library — a $500,000 grant application — was unsuccessful. And so a nagging question surfaces again: Where will the library be operating about 1,000 days from now?

The library has been located in the century-old Community Center Building, owned by the borough, at Philadelphia and North Ninth streets since 1934. The lease between the borough and library will expire at the end of 2015.

Library trustees say a long-term lease, something extending well beyond 2015, is needed to make the library eligible for grants, but borough council has been reluctant to approve a longer lease renewal because borough officials say the building needs extensive repairs, fixes the borough cannot afford to make.

The situation appeared more positive last fall when the library trustees and council agreed to jointly apply for an ambitious $500,000 Keystone Grant, administered through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Office of Commonwealth Libraries, to perform restoration work and repairs on the Community Center Building. Then-borough manager Jeff Raykes said the grant application was very competitive and required a long-term commitment to the Community Center Building by both the library and the borough. The grant is focused on providing library services, he said, and if some of the improvements funded by the grant lasted 50 years, there would be an understanding that a library must operate from there for 50 years.

But recently borough officials and library trustees were informed that the grant application was not funded.

“Once again our community and the trustees … face the most significant challenge to our library’s survival — the absence of a permanent home,” Sherry Kuckuck, president of the trustees, said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “In order to be eligible for the grant, and many other similar grants, the library is required to provide assurances of a long-term lease on its space. During the application process, the borough failed to execute the long-term lease. However, the borough agreed to the option of a long-term lease contingent upon receiving the grant. A letter of intent to this effect was included in the grant application.”

But now that the Keystone Grant has fallen through, Kuckuck said the library is left with a lease that expires in less than three years, and no options for renewal have been offered.

“The library has long recognized the need to solicit funding from as many sources as possible,” Kuckuck said in the prepared statement. “However, the pending end of the lease at the Community Building has and will continue to disqualify the library from many capital grants because it does not own the space and cannot demonstrate the institutional stability provided by a long-term lease.”

The library relies mainly on funding from the state, local municipalities and fundraising in order to operate. While Pennsylvania has provided level funding during the past several years, overall libraries have experienced a 35 percent loss in state aid since 2008, according to the library statement. And the struggle to meet day-to-day operating costs has been compounded by the need to hire engineers and consultants to assess the conditions of the Community Center Building and the extent of maintenance and improvements needed.

Indiana council President Nancy Jones said news that the grant application was rejected was “a great disappointment” to borough officials.

“We’re back to square one. … We have to secure that building,” Jones said. “We don’t believe there are safety issues” with the building, but an estimated $500,000 worth of repairs are needed, and those “are not the aesthetics,” Jones said.

“How do we entertain a long-term lease when we don’t know what the building will need? We can’t begin to think about a long-term lease. (The lease through the end of 2015) is the best we can do right now,” Jones said.

Library trustees announced in 2010 they would begin searching for a new site for the library after they were unable to reach agreement with council on a lease renewal that library officials felt was long enough.

Kuckuck said Tuesday some possible sites for a new library home were identified but “probably have been eliminated.”

“We would be open to looking at sites,” she said. “The trustees are really looking at the options we have. … Our fiduciary goal and responsibility is to achieve a stable, permanent home for that library.”

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