Where could library go?
The absence of the Rochester Public Library in conceptual images in the Destination Medical Center plan stirred concerns when it was approved four years ago.
Today, the library has no plans to disappear from the landscape.
That doesn’t mean options aren’t being weighed.
In the past year, the Rochester Library Board renewed discussions of its options after an expansion effort failed to receive needed support.
“I think we came away with the idea that all options are on the table, but we want to focus on the needs of the community, whatever that looks like,” Library Board President Stephanie Saathoff said.
Library Director Audrey Betcher said whatever decision is made will need to be supported by the board, as well as the Rochester City Council.
“The Library Board has that decision in their charter — where the library goes — but the city has the funding,” she said.
The combined decision-making is why Betcher said she was excited to see the City Council confirm that funding for the library’s future remains a priority.
“I appreciate that they made it a priority,” Betcher said.
Future library infrastructure, whether expansion or a new building, is considered important to the city’s mission as the council also discusses space needs and other potential construction projects.
While moving could still be on the table, Betcher and Saathoff said the Library Board has made it clear that the facility will be part of the downtown core for years to come.
FINDING THE RIGHT SPACE
When asked about potential locations, Betcher chuckled and indicated they are too numerous to count.
“You wouldn’t believe the number of places we are asked about,” she said.
Previous discussions have included working with University of Minnesota Rochester to build on its campus or finding an agreement to build on vacant lots that still dot the downtown landscape.
Betcher said that while all options remain in play, status quo isn’t likely to meet the needs of a growing community due to space limitations.
“There are things that just don’t happen in this building that we would love to have happen in this building,” she said, noting potential program partners have been turned away.
The library has an agreement allowing the use of space in Mayo Civic Center, which Betcher said has been helpful. Still, scheduling limits and program needs don’t always make it the best fit.
Saathoff said the Library Board would like to see more space available to build on the achievements that helped the library earn the National Medal of Museum and Library Service last year.
“Even though we’re running low on space, we want to make sure we’re providing the best programming that we can for the patrons and community,” she said.
FACING A NEW CHALLENGE
Space isn’t the only concern the library faces as summer nears.
Street and sewer upgrades will provide a new challenge as a pair of projects are being planned.
Work is expected to start in May with the closing of the block of First Avenue Southeast that sits to the library’s west, cutting off access to the Civic Center parking ramp, which is used by many patrons.
Public Works Director Chris Petree said the ramp closing is being coordinated with scheduled upkeep to limit inconvenience.
Parking availability won’t be the only concern, however. The construction will also cut off access to the drive-up drop off site and the bookmobile garage.
“Construction will have a huge impact on us this summer,” Betcher said, noting the second project will close Second Street Southeast in front of the library.
The library has arranged to house the city’s bookmobile in a garage that once housed its regional counterpart. Betcher said that will keep the mobile library on the street, but will provide challenges in keeping it connected to the library’s materials.
In another step to help combat construction pressure, the Library Board has approved a temporary policy to auto-renew checked out materials. That means anything that can be renewed and hasn’t been requested by another library user will get an automatic extension while the streets are closed.
Since most materials can be checked out for 28 days and can be renewed three times, she indicated most items would likely be able to be out for the bulk of planned construction.
“We are working really hard to minimize the impacts,” Betcher said.