In the coming weeks, the City Council of La Porte City will make a decision that will have a significant impact on the future of Hawkins Memorial Library. Last week, the Library Board decided to move forward with the purchase of the building located at 210 Main Street, the location of Two Friends Tap, which will close its doors to the public in April.

                The Library Board is interested in the property because it represents a sizable increase in square footage. Patrons of the library are painfully aware of the space limitations under which the library currently operates. The facility is out of shelf space for books and lacks adequate space to properly display new books and its collection of some 2,000 DVDs. When showing a movie or conducting a program, access to the materials in those areas is denied to other patrons using the library at that time. With additional space, patrons would have access to amenities considered commonplace in libraries today, including areas  for comfortable seating, a room (or rooms) suitable for  conducting meetings and a consolidated area for public use of computers.

                Last week, the City Council asked for a 30 day extension to more closely study the potential costs associated with renovating the building for use as a public library. Good for them. Local taxpayers rely on their representatives to be good stewards of the limited resources available to provide the community with services that make La Porte City a great place to call home.

                This is not the first time La Porte City has been faced with a choice to make regarding the quality of services it will make available to area citizens. On more than one occasion, the City considered the costs and potential benefits of a new family aquatic center. It wasn’t until 2005 that La Porte City voters said yes to a new pool, at a capital project cost of 2.3 million dollars. It is important to remember that $230,000 of the aquatic center’s final price tag was the result of community fundraising efforts.

                The La Porte City FFA and Historical Ag Museum offers an excellent example of what can be accomplished in this era of budget cuts and a fragile economy. The Museum Board had a vision of what the old Jail and Firehouse, a structure in danger of falling down, could become. With a determined effort over a period of several years, the restoration it envisioned became the reality that enhances our community today. The museum project was not subject to a public referendum because the primary source of funding came from private fundraising efforts and grants.

                No one can say for sure how much it will cost to renovate 210 Main Street. MSA Professional Services, the engineers that have overseen several City projects, including the construction of a new water tower, along with the reconstruction of a portion of U.S. Highway 218 running through town, has put preliminary estimates in the neighborhood of $500 thousand. Such a dollar amount would give any reasonable person cause to hesitate, especially as the potholes of winter become jarringly evident in the seasonal shift to springtime driving.

                But let’s be very clear, here. Moving Hawkins Memorial Library to a new, larger location on Main Street is not a competing interest to repairing our city’s streets. Fortunately for those of us with driver’s licenses, the budget for street repairs does not run through the library trust fund account, nor is money allocated for street repairs diverted to buy books. Just as road repairs did not stop when La Porte City built a new aquatic center, and they continued as scheduled when the FFA Museum saved the Jail and Firehouse, they will not halt when various library fundraisers and grant applications commence.
                Fortunately, the Library Board does not have to fund the entire cost of the renovation project right away. Once the building has been fortified with a new roof and made weatherproof, the most expensive portions of the renovation can be tackled as the necessary funds are raised.

                In the midst of initiating a downtown revitalization plan, there is another important factor for local decision-makers to consider. While the cost to renovate 210 Main Street involves a significant amount of money, what will happen to the building adjacent to City Hall if the effort to renovate it is politely declined by its next-door neighbors? Will the renovation be taken up by another buyer, or will it perhaps go the way of another Main Street structure, the Hicks building, which the City was forced to demolish after it deteriorated beyond repair.

                Whatever decision the City Council chooses to make will result in some cost for our community. If the Library Board is not allowed to pursue 210 Main Street as the solution for providing library patrons with the additional space they need, what then? There do not appear to be any other suitable buildings downtown and the cost to purchase land and/or construct a new building will make the 210 Main Street renovation price tag look like a bargain.

                Important decisions such as these are best reached when there is open and cordial dialogue about the pros and cons of the situation. The Progress Review invites readers to logon to its new website at www.theprogressreview.co and share their comments about the future of Hawkins Memorial Library.