After an almost two-year wait, the Wauseon Public Library has been approved to receive $200,000 in federal funding to assist with over $1 million in long-anticipated renovations.
An official agreement for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Targets of Opportunity Program was received recently by the Fulton County Commissioners. Following their approval last week, the agreement requires a signature at the state level.
The federal money will allow the library’s board of trustees to move forward with structural and aesthetic improvements to the building at 117 E. Elm St. Those will include repair to the crumbling foundation, upgrades to four additions, and replacement of the elevator with one compliant with the American Disabilities Act.
The architectural work will be completed by Munger Munger and Associates. The Toledo firm performed exploratory core drilling on the library building two years ago, after crumbling and cracks were discovered inside and outside of the foundation.
WPL Director Amy Murphy said the renovations will modernize the additions with larger windows, but will tweak the original portion of the building to reestablish its early characteristics.
“It truly will be bringing the library up to today, but it will bring the library back to a more historical look,” she said.
The Munger architects have created plans to tuck-point the exterior brick work, replace the roof, install the new elevator, add energy-efficient windows, widen a staircase, and modernize the entryway.
Murphy said the firm has done extensive research on the building in order to maintain its historical integrity. The public library is one of 104 built in Ohio between 1899 and 1915 from Carnegie Corporation of New York grants totaling more than $2.8 million.
“The board is committed to our historical Carnegie,” Murphy said.
The process began in 2014, after Murphy discussed the library’s plight with Fulton County Regional Planning Director David Wright. Realizing the size of the project, Wright worked with the Ohio Development Services Agency, which directed him to pursue a CDBG through the Targets of Opportunity Program.
Wright submitted a grant application for the county that June. He had since made numerous inquiries regarding its status, but was not contacted until several months ago. That’s when the ODSA requested additional documentation.
“(W)ithin a month or so of the state’s receipt of that documentation I inquired of the applications process and was given an informal verbal approval,” he said. The official grant agreement was delivered to the Fulton County Commissioners office a couple of weeks ago.
The original library building was completed in 1905. Before then, the city library consisted of books that were shuttled from storefront to storefront for storage, and which ultimately ended up in the basement of the Fulton County Board of Elections.
Wauseon School Superintendent C.J. Biery was acquainted with Carnegie’s secretary, and wrote to Carnegie requesting that he build the city a library. The businessman agreed, with the stipulation that the community raise the $1,100 necessary to purchase the land.
Because funding was at a premium at the time, “the superintendent was very brave back then to raise money for the library,” Murphy said.
When the Munger firm core-drilled the building’s foundation two years ago, the architects found gold paint, coal, and salt within. They also found air pockets in the concrete.
“There must not have been standards for concrete in 1905,” Murphy said.
From the ground up, the building was declared sound. The substructure, with its crumbling and cracking, didn’t fare nearly as well. Fortunately, Murphy said, the boards of trustees over the past 20 years foresaw the eventual need for repairs.
“It’s been planned, and money has been set aside in the building fund for many years. They knew something had to be done,” she said.
The building fund and private donations, which the library is still accepting, will assist the CDBG grant in paying for renovations.
No starting date for the work has been scheduled, but the grant deadline is August of 2017. The library board of trustees meet today to determine a plan.
Board of Trustees member Connie Sperry said Murphy deserves the credit for pursuing the grant.
“It’s amazing, We are so blessed and thankful for this grant,” she said. “Financially, it will be a windfall for the library. The taxpayers have been so, so, so generous, but we really need this renovation. It’s been an ongoing process for years, and it has needed attention for some time.”
Murphy said the question arose in the 1990s as to whether the library should be housed in a more modern facility. She said the boards of trustees have always been determined, however, to remain dedicated to the historical Carnegie building.
“We’re very grateful that the Fulton County Commissioners applied for the grant. We will be moving forward,” she said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.