New chapter for old library: Visitors check out the ongoing work at the Cape facility

Monday, October 27, 2008

Nearly 50 people got a preview of progress in the Cape Girardeau Public Library renovation Sunday afternoon.

"What we're hoping is this will be a community center," said library director Betty Martin as she picked her way over electric cords and construction supplies. Despite being on Clark Street, the library will have a clear link to the Mississippi River.

Martin opened the tour by directing visitors' attention to the limestone divisions on the exterior brickwork -- a reference to the river -- and the 52-foot-high entrance now visible from Broadway.

The river theme continues inside, with a palette of blue, green and yellow planned for an expansive central east-west hall that opens to a patio for those inclined to soak up the rays while reading.

Martin pointed to metal foundations and concrete floors, describing how they will blossom into customer counters and playscapes for children, with couches set near windows to foster parent-child reading sessions.

Martin stepped into spaces that will, by this time next year, hold a network of electronic lines, keeping the library's future 40 computers humming. She boasted of easy chairs and lamps aimed at helping visitors feel at home and ready to curl up with a good book.

Mangho Ahuja asked how the high-ceilinged river corridor would respond to noise. Martin said the ceiling tiles were chosen for their ability to dampen sound.

She explained that the library's new drive-through window will save time, and on rainy days, improve customer service by keeping patrons dry. Another visitor-friendly plan is a self-serve customer checkout counter.

Expanded parking includes putting more handicapped spots closer to the front entrance, Martin said, while security cameras will monitor inside and outside areas. She suggested the parking lots will often be full, especially when the library's new conference rooms are being used.

One will provide a 16-person table; two more have a capacity of 100 each. Each room will have access to a kitchen area, space to provide coffee, and such amenities as projectors and screens. Martin reminded the visitors that not-for-profit organizations pay no fees to use the rooms. A fourth space will be equipped with personal computers and open to the public except for special training events, she said.

Asked how "green" the builders were being, Martin said there were some limits observed for cost reasons, but that bamboo is being used extensively.

The project is being paid for by a special library tax passed in February 2007 and designed to raise $8.9 million. Martin said the combined cost of construction, furniture, technology and new items for collections has reached $8.2 million.

Extensive changes

The building is scheduled to open in March. The original deadline to finish the building by December has been pushed back twice after ice storms and heavy spring rain complicated work for general contractor, Cape Girardeau-based Kiefner Brothers Inc., trying to lay earthwork and build exterior foundation walls.

When construction is complete, the size of the library will have roughly doubled, from 19,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The spaces will be warmed using high-efficiency heat pump technology, Martin said.

Her face lit up as the gathering entered the long space reserved for the youngest readers, from babies to sixth graders. Martin, a children's librarian for 17 years, said she had a lot to do with planning the space.

"Children are our future. We want them to love coming here," she said, going on to describe areas that are carpeted so children can read anywhere to tiled spaces for future crafts. A handful of computers will be dedicated to younger children, she said.

Moe and Patti Sandfort finished the tour and said they were thrilled with the notion of returning once the building reopens with some of their 12 grandchildren, ages 3 to 18.

"It seems to me the $60 fee is well worth it," Moe Sandfort said. "For us it will be."

The Cape Girardeau Public Library is free for residents or property owners within the library district; full time city employees; faculty and students of Southeast Missouri State University; and teachers at any school (public, private or parochial) in Cape Girardeau County who teach kindergarten through 12th grade. Others pay a $15 fee for 90 days or $60 per year per household.

Funding still sought

Martin said federal grants have helped purchase new furniture and computer equipment. Carolyn Ford Bock, president of the Friends of the Cape Girardeau Public Library Foundation board of directors, said "funding is always needed."

To that end, the library is offering naming rights of various rooms. For those who can't afford to donate thousands, she said, the library has devised a simpler plan. She handed out flyers to those touring the library with details on how to sponsor a decorative book spine. The art project will be displayed in a faux bookshelf near the library entrance.

She said Sunday's tours were "a little perk we're doing for our Friends of the Library."

It was also a soft appeal for more funds. Martin reminded those gathered that the library construction is funded by the tax, but operations must take place within a limited district and under financial constraints.

The tour also impressed library fan Patty Henson and her friends.

"We were just asking about how we're going to make more time to be here," she said.

"The windows really make a difference," added her friend, Norma Blattner.

Martin said the renovated library will have a "soft" reopening in March, with a celebration sometime during National Library Week in April. After that, she said, "the goal is to see use double."

The library's temporary location during construction is 301 S. Broadview St. Library hours at 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the Cape Girardeau Public Library, visit or call 573-334-5279.


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