LOOGOOTEE — It’s been five years in the making but soon Loogootee will open its new library to the public.

“They are telling us everything is moving right along and we’ll be moving in sometime in November,” said Darla Wagler, library director, adding at the latest, the facility will be complete around Thanksgiving.

The 9,000-square-foot facility, located just off Park Street, was made possible through a $1.1 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development.

“This isn’t a grant,” said Wagler. “We have to pay the money back. We are the first library in the state to use this type of loan.”

To help offset the cost of that loan, which will include $40,000 in interest, several fundraisers have been held by members of the Friends of the Library and the library’s board. The goal was to raise $200,000 to help offset the cost of those loan payments.

“We’ve done about everything to help raise money for the project,” said Jennifer Lannan, one of library’s board members, who said fundraising efforts will continue and several, including the Pull Up A Chair Fundraiser, have already been scheduled. “We’ve done a lot baking, grilled a lot of brats and had a lot of fun.”

Several businesses and organizations have also made donations or hosted fundraisers for the project.

Board member Susan Harrawood, who spoke on behalf of the library at the Loogootee City Council meeting earlier this month, said response to the library’s efforts has been encouraging.

“We have been involved in very aggressive fundraising that will assist in satisfying our loan obligations and freeing other revenue to devote to expansion of programs and services for the community. The response has been very encouraging with growing community support in the form of donations, matching grants and patronage for our fundraising events,” said Harrawood. “The latest step in this fundraising process was a request to Loogootee City Council for a contribution from EDIT Funds. These funds are allocated for economic development, capital improvements and infrastructure expenditures. We hope the decision of the council will mirror the generous support provided to us by those in our service area.”

The request to the city council was for $150,000, but Wagler and members of the library board are quick to point out they do not expect, should they get the money, for that to come in a lump sum.

Should the library get those EDIT or Economic Development Income Tax funds, it will not increase taxes.

In fact, Wagler said the tax rate has dropped in recent years.

“Up until the new tax district resolution was signed by the Martin County Commissioners in 2012, the library was providing various services to the 5,853 residents, but the City of Loogootee, via property taxes taxes funded the library,” said Wagler, who said Loogootee is considered a Class C library, one that serves under 10,000. “A small amount was contracted with the Perry Township Trustee and Rutherford Township didn’t pay to support the library.”

Those townships, along with Crane, were added in and the tax rate dropped.

From 2006 to 2011, the tax rate was .1014 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Now, with the addition of those other taxing districts, the rate for 2019 stands at .0682 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

It also meant those in unserved areas had access the library and its services.

“In 2011, Library Standards were adopted by the Indiana State Library that dictates who many programs, age-related programs and space in the library for children, young adult and adults,” said Wagler, who said a percentage of the library’s budget also had be spent on new books even if that meant weeding our books to make room and the complete standards can be viewed at in.gov/library. “The standards were adopted to nudge library boards and librarians to change. They were required to be more automated, adopt after 5 p.m. hours and bring in the contracted or unserved areas into one taxing district.”

New programs and more offerings

With more patrons to serve, need for more space became very apparent.

“In 2008, our summer reading program for youth had eight kids,” said Wagler. “The most we’ve had now is 184, and the number of materials we’ve been checking out has also increased. We had 16,000 in 2012 and now we are over 30,000 items checked out.”

Wagler said in 2015 and 2016, she also proctored more than 100 tests for college students free of charge and due to lack of space, organizations, individuals and businesses that requested meeting space were often turned away.

The new library will provide much needed additional space for materials, programs and services as well as community meeting space and an office for WorkOne to offer job referrals and training.

“Some people don’t realize that libraries have those standards and having WorkOne on site helps those coming in needing help with resumes, basic computer skills. They are able to do a lot of things we would have to hire additional staff to take on,” said Wagler.

The location of the new facility, which was donated by St. Vincent DePaul and Bowling Manufacturing, also contains room for any necessary future expansion and for outdoor learning activities.

“We did a survey before the expansion to gauge what people wanted,” said Pat Hale, who serves as the president of the library board, and said that another survey conducted by the city revealed the library was in the top five of things citizens were willing to pay for. “We didn’t make any overnight decisions. We wanted to see what people wanted.”

The new space, which will be about triple the size of the current facility, will also be more open and will also feature a separate children’s activity room, genealogy room, tutoring spaces, kitchen, a display area that will feature items from the Martin County Historical Society and more.

“We spent a lot of time with the architect on this,” said Hale, adding the facility will also be Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

While there are no specifics events planned, the library plans to offer several lifeskills-type classes.

“We are evolving,” said Wagler. “We are more than just a place for books. We’ve had people ask for cooking classes, classes on cursive writing. We had one 85-year-old Korean and Vietnam vet who drive from Florida to Loogootee and stopped at the library. He requested landlords in the area and wanted to use our phonebook. He slept in his truck a few days until we could find him a place to live. We are really here to meet the needs of our community.”

Board member Betty Huelsman said the new library will be something the community can take pride in.

“It’s going to be beautiful. There’s been a lot of work and a lot of time out into making this happen,” she said.

Upcoming Fundraisers

Boo, Bake and Yard Sale Sept. 7, 8 a.m. to noon at the current library.

Bradley’s Bar and Grill Golf Scramble, Sept. 14, at West Boggs. Teams are still being accepted.

Pull Up a Chair Auction and Dinner, Oct. 5 in the lower level of the St. Johns Center. Chairs still available for painting for the auction.

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