Standing in the under-construction east wing of the library, Creswell Library Director Su Liudahl (left) confers with Old Mill Cabinets General Manager Brian Courtright (center) and Job Superintendent Derek Shively. Gini Davis/The Creswell Chronicle
More than a decade in the making as funds were drummed up to make their long-planned expansion a reality, Creswell Library and the community it serves are seeing that expansion project come to fruition.
The ”little library that could” – the only library in the Lane Library District, which shares service boundaries with the school district rather than the city – has remodeled and reopened in the west wing of the building at 64 W. Oregon Ave. The library had leased the east wing from February 2006 through December 2016, when the entire property was purchased after 10-plus years of dedicated fundraising.
”We’ve been saving from the beginning to purchase the property and expand, so it’s exciting to see our ‘little’ library growing so we can provide even more of the programs and services our community needs,” said Library Director Su Liudahl. ”The new part is about 4,000 square feet, so essentially we’re doubling the size of our library.”
The library was closed the week of May 13 as staff and volunteers moved from east to west the 35,000-plus books, DVDs, games and other items in the library’s collection, shelves, office equipment and more.
”The staff worked amazingly hard; they were really flexible about when they could be here, and our volunteers did a fabulous job,” Liudahl said. ”About 20 people came and worked hard and got a lot done; so many wanted to help that we had to turn some people away because there was not enough for all of them to do at the same time.”
Much thoughtful planning went into the moving process: ”The staff took time thinking about how to set up the temporary service desk, making it work with the computers and phones and everything we needed, making office space work,” Liudahl said. ”Everybody’s problem-solving and we got really creative with the space.”
The library reopened to the public on May 21, temporarily occupying only the reconstructed west wing; remodeling of the east wing is underway, with a contract completion date of Aug. 31, 2019.
Although expansion plans have, of necessity, been scaled back due to rising construction and materials costs during the fundraising period, the property purchase and $623,000 reconstruction/remodeling project are still being completed without bringing a bond proposal to voters.
”It was the District’s plan from the beginning to complete this project with no additional taxpayer expense by saving from the library budget, writing grants and seeking private donations,” Liudahl said, noting that about $300,000 saved by the library, $250,000 in grant money and $100,000 in community donations have funded the (re)construction project.
Pared from the original plans were a front porch, parking lot improvements, a large multipurpose room equipped with a kitchen/laboratory/craft area and converting the former lumberyard ”backyard” into an attractive courtyard.
”We were able to create a smaller program space including a kitchenette with a refrigerator, sink, microwave and dishwasher by combining a hallway and small office, and I see the goal of making the ‘backyard’ into a nice community gathering space as the next logical phase, because we can get grants for that,” Liudahl said. ”We’re also talking about getting a hotplate, instant pot and air fryer for the kitchenette.”
Liudahl noted that utilities have already been moved to allow for later construction of the multipurpose room if additional funds are raised.
West-side demolition and reconstruction began on Jan. 2, 2019. Because it was formerly a medical office, the process involved special lead removal from the x-ray room, along with plumbing and electrical work, cutting open the concrete wall between the wings to create the library’s temporary west-wing public entrance, painting, carpet, doors, shelving, and benches along the western wall of windows.
Richard Bigham, a Creswell flooring professional, volunteered his labor to install the carpet – an attractive herringbone pattern in grays and soft blues – in the new section.
As with any construction/remodeling project, Liudahl was prepared to expect the unexpected: The total project budget has increased by about $50,000 from its original $570,000, ”but my goal through the entire design process has been to keep things as flexible as possible,” Liudahl said.
Part of the increase is due to the higher cost of installing mobile rather than fixed shelving in the east wing: ”We want to be able to move the shelves and furniture around to get more gathering space, more flexibility, more program space,” Liudahl said.
Once east-wing reconstruction is completed and the two sections are reconnected, the western section will house library stacks, four patron computers plus Wi-Fi access for people using their own devices, a study room, the program space with kitchenette, and Liudahl’s office.
The east wing will house a glass-doored teen area in front, where the children’s room used to be; a smaller playroom with toys for younger tots, adjacent to the service desk; moveable shelving that will expand the library’s collection space; and an open parent-child lounge that will house children’s books and provide space for Storytime and other child-centered programs.
Youth Librarian Nick Caum’s office will occupy part of the former Friendship Room at the back, adjacent to the parent-child lounge area; the remainder of the room will provide storage and an extra workspace for staff and library volunteers.
”I’m really excited that teens will have a space to be; every day there are six or more teens here after school playing games and they haven’t had a place to be that gives them the space to communicate the way they know best,” Caum said.
”Kids will have their own play area, too – and with everything mobile in the room we can do larger and more physical activities in the library,” said Caum, who’s hoping to hold some Summer Reading Program activities in the space next year and to add a play kitchen and cookbooks for kids to the play space, among other things.
”Ideally I’d like to be able to rotate different play scenarios in and out, depending on our storage,” he said.
All this physical activity and enthusiastic human interaction may sound a far cry from the hushed, still atmosphere of the libraries many of us once knew. But much has changed about the way libraries are envisioned.
”We’re not as concerned about sound as libraries have been in the past,” Caum said. ”We’ve gone away from libraries as quiet places of books; we’re more of a community hub now.”
Liudahl, who grew up without access to a public library ”because we lived out of town and it was a city library,” started taking her own children to libraries when they were young, and remembers how intimidatingly unfamiliar that initially felt – the opposite of the open, approachable atmosphere she and her staff are continuing to create at Creswell Library.
”It’s really important to us to be very warm, welcoming, friendly – to be a gathering place where people meet each other, part of the ‘friendly city,’” Liudahl said. ”We may not have our front porch yet, but we want to be the ‘front porch’ of Creswell.”