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Soon, a new chapter in library’s history

Ryan Humphrey, Ashlyn Wheery, Katelyn Humphrey and Haydon Wheery enjoy a “crafternoon” at the North Liberty Community Library on March 12. Behind them, the particle board partition separates the existing library from the new 11,000 square foot expansion that is currently under construction. The new section of the library is expected to be open to the public in May. (photo by Lori Lindner)

Ryan Humphrey, Ashlyn Wheery, Katelyn Humphrey and Haydon Wheery enjoy a “crafternoon” at the North Liberty Community Library on March 12. Behind them, the particle board partition separates the existing library from the new 11,000 square foot expansion that is currently under construction. The new section of the library is expected to be open to the public in May. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– What’s on the other side of that giant particle-board wall in the North Liberty Community Library?
A world of contentment, if you love spending time lounging in a comfy chair and reading a good book, leafing through your favorite magazines next to the fireplace, doing homework with friends or browsing the Internet, café style. It’s also a well-appointed, functional space that will help the library staff accommodate their ever-increasing number of patrons, and facilitate everyone’s engagement with the library in new and productive ways.
The North Liberty Community Library’s expansion project has taken shape on the other side of the partition that has divided the old and new for the last few months.
The addition of over 11,000 square feet to the existing library was a process that actually began in 2007, when North Liberty Library Director Dee Crowner approached the North Liberty City Council with a growing need for more space, a need that was recognized seven years ago in a 2006 facilities study by RDG Planning & Design. The city appointed an expansion committee and hired the Renaissance Group to do a fundraising feasibility study in 2008, which helped determine how much of an expansion the community would support. The City of North Liberty committed $2 million to the project; with that pledge and a state Department of Economic Development grant of $622,500 already in hand, library supporters went to work on the private fundraising goal of $714,000 in May 2010. The fundraising committee exceeded its goal in just 11 months, and the anticipated $3.3 million expansion got underway with an unofficial groundbreaking ceremony in fall 2011.
After much input from library staff and users on the design, construction began in spring 2012, with architectural firm Neumann Monson at the helm. The addition and reconfiguration of the old portion of the library will allow for new meeting and study rooms in a variety of sizes– expandable or dividable, to better fit different groups’ needs– a periodical area with an electric fireplace, a dedicated teen lounge, Internet and computer stations atop bar-height tables, and a south-facing, windowed reading area.
“There will plug-ins for laptops all over the library, including around the columns,” said Crowner.  “There will be no hard wired computers except in the teen and adult areas.  All patrons 18 and over may check out laptop computers to use anywhere in the library.  There will be comfortable seating as well counters for patrons to use with the library computers as well as their own personal laptops.”
A new office/work space has been included for the library staff, arranged for practicality and function. A separate story-time room and a play area for younger kids will be incorporated into the old portion of the library, as will a specific space for juvenile readers, so “those ‘tweens’ that don’t really fit with the younger or older kids have a place to be, too,” said Garner. An outdoor deck with tables and chairs will provide for outdoor library programming and a place for people to wait while kids are swimming or using the center in other ways.
“Our idea is for people to linger,” said Assistant Library Director Jennie Garner. “We want people to want to be here.”
While it might sound luxurious, a number of money-saving– and planet-saving– measures are included in various features throughout the construction and furnishings. Floor tiles will be made from recycled tires. The drinking fountains have reusable water bottle filling spigots. Much of the library’s existing shelving will be repurposed for use in the new area, saving about $112,000. Sensor-activated lights in the restrooms and high daylight windows near the roof will help save electricity. Chairs in the magazine area will be made from seat belt cast-offs, and a number of other furniture pieces will be crafted from boards salvaged from the Recreation Center’s damaged gym floor.
Currently, the builders are entering the finishing phase.
“They say we are right on schedule,” Crowner said. The project is expected to be complete by April, with move-in to the new area slated for May. Renovations to the old portion will then be done, giving patrons full use of the entire facility by late July.
What people most want to know right now, Crowner said, is when the front entrance to the Community Center, closed since October, will re-open.
“Two weeks,” said Crowner. “It has to be open in two weeks.”
These days, library director Dee Crowner can barely refrain from giving tours of the new space.
“It has been amazing to see the new part grow, and patrons and staff are so looking forward to having some breathing space, and actual quiet spaces, for everyone,” Crowner said. “ We are looking forward to having study rooms and meetings rooms available for patrons.  We will be able to do all library programs in the library. We do a happy dance every time we go out to the expansion.  Oh yeah, I love giving tours!”
As of yet, patrons are only able to peek behind the partition and see the same changes Crowner and her staff are seeing, but the public will certainly be invited to share in the excitement once the expansion is complete. An anticipated Grand Opening celebration for the public is tentatively planned for September.