Stark Library announces the launch of Re│imagine 2.0, the next phase in a multi-year plan to meet the changing needs of Stark County by updating buildings, upgrading technology, and creating flexible spaces.
“The Re|imagine project is our commitment to investing in our community by properly caring for our buildings and facilities, to serve our patrons with excellence in the 21st century,” states Mary Ellen Icaza, CEO & Executive Director of Stark Library.
The Library is on the verge of completing the first phase of Re|imagine, with the scheduled re-opening of the Lake Community Branch on March 4, 2023. This is the sixth location to undergo renovations, following the North, East Canton, Madge Youtz, Perry Sippo, and DeHoff Memorial Branches, all within the past two years. In addition, the Library opened the new Jackson Community Branch in the scenic North Park complex in 2021. Each beautifully renovated location was evaluated and designed to serve the needs of the patrons in its communities.
As this project was coming to a close, the Library knew they needed an ongoing plan to address the upkeep and maintenance of all their facilities. So, in 2022, they contracted with consultants from the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) to develop an ongoing master plan for the Library. The CUDC works to improve the quality of life in Northeast Ohio through community-driven design processes and has regional library experience.
The CUDC conducted an extensive analysis of the entire Stark Library system. These evaluations included research, interviews, branch visits, focus groups (engaging the staff and community), and data analysis. Through this evaluation, the CUDC recommended that the next phase of the Re|imagine project should focus on Main Library. Main Library was built in 1978 and has not been renovated since 2001.
“The natural next phase in this project was to look at our flagship location, the Main Library, located in the county seat and heart of downtown Canton,” Icaza continues. “Main Library serves our entire community, and it became apparent from the evaluation and focus groups that the current facility does not adequately serve the needs of the greater community.
"Our Mission is to strengthen the community by advancing literacy, connecting people, and encouraging exploration. I am excited to see how we can Re│imagine Main Library to serve the growing and changing needs of the community,” Icaza states.
At the January Stark Library Board of Trustees meeting on January 24, 2023, the Board unanimously passed a resolution supporting this project and allowing the Executive Director and Fiscal Officer, Chris Butler, to proceed in securing a Construction Manager and Architect.
“As good stewards of the funds entrusted to us by taxpayers, we are confident that this decision is in the best interests of the community,” states Steve Pittman, President of the Board of Trustees. “The current Main Library building is aging and in desperate need of extensive repair. In addition, the staff and administration have worked to retrofit services into the space, which is neither optimal nor sustainable for addressing the evolving needs of the community.”
An analysis conducted by HBM Architects reported that simply repairing mechanical systems in the current building would cost in excess of $14 million, and renovating the 114K square foot building to the standards applied to other locations in the Re|imagine project would cost almost $62 million. The Fiscal Officer conducted a ten-year cost analysis and determined that the Library’s cash flow could not accommodate the cost of renovations. The Library also owns a secondary building across Cleveland Avenue from Main Library, which is currently used for storage. The building was assessed in 2022, and more than half of the building was deemed to be unsafe.
The Library once again engaged HBM to evaluate the cost of building a new Main Library on the grounds of the current property and a new Operations Center on the grounds of the existing storage facility. The recommendation from the architect included building a 70K square foot Main Library to house all public services and a new 15K square foot Operations Center across the street to house systemwide services. The total inclusive cost of both buildings is estimated to be ~$54 million - ~$8 million less than renovating the current building.
“I am confident that, given the Library’s current cash flow and using planned debt financing backed by the Ohio Public Library Fund (PLF), this project is affordable within the current and long-term budget of the Library,” states Chris Butler, Fiscal Officer.
“Our budget is supported by the PLF and funds from the current levy, passed in 2019,” Butler continues. “We made a commitment to the voters that a portion of levy funding would go to the care and maintenance of our buildings. This project represents the fulfillment of our promise to the community.
“The levy expires in 2027, and we do not plan to seek an increase in levy funds when it expires,” Butler emphasizes.
The Library plans to begin to plan and design the new Main Library and the Operations Center in 2023, and to break ground on the Operations Center in 2024. They hope to break ground for the new Main Library in 2026. This plan will allow the least disruption in Library services by housing support services and operations in the Operations Center during the planned construction of the Main Library.
The Re|imagine project will continue during 2023 when the CUDC will assess how the Library serves the residents of South Central Stark County. They will use a similar process to the Main Library analysis to determine how current patrons use the Library and how to reach other members of the community who are not library patrons. During 2023, the Library will also refresh the Plain Community Branch, including new carpet, and furnishings.
“This is a massive undertaking,” concludes Icaza. “Our vision is to have a thriving, literate, equitable community, and I believe this project will bring us much closer to that dream.”
ABOUT THE LIBRARY
Inviting. Informing. Transforming. At Stark Library, we invite everyone into a welcoming place, inform them about the resources that will help them grow, and then send them back out to transform the world.
One of the nine largest library systems in Ohio – and the county’s oldest library – Stark Library serves the community through 10 locations, six mobile libraries, and a 24/7 digital branch.
A seven-time winner of the Library Journal’s America’s Star Libraries, Stark Library serves more than 240,000 residents. Each year the library presents programs for the community and provides publicly available computers and WiFi in each location.