Remembering the past, looking towards the future
Library celebrates 25th anniversary
When Pat McGarvey assumed the role of Austin City Administrator in 1992, one thing was very apparent to him: Austin needed a new public library.
“It was very dated and quite small for the size of the city,” he said of the old Carnegie Library, which was located near Austin High School. “You were limited with what you could do.”
The efforts to build a new public library were ultimately successful. On Wednesday, the Austin Public Library celebrated its silver anniversary with a party to commemorate where it has been, what it has been involved with, and where it’s going.
And it all began as a community effort.
“Once I was in office for a while and got to meet several people, I sat down one night with the Library Board and said, ‘In my opinion, Austin needs a new library,’” McGarvey recalled. “I thought I was going to get a standing ovation. I said I thought the (city) council supported one, but the $64 question was how much is it going to cost and how are you going to pay for it.”
Building a new library was not going to be an easy task. Two prior referendum votes for a new library failed to pass. But some influential people, such as I.J. Holton and Nancy Knowlton, offered to help.
“They and all of the people they knew said they were ready to help and would step up with the city folks because I couldn’t do it on my own,” McGarvey said. “They said they would get the council on board.”
From there, the Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. architectural firm of Minneapolis was hired to draw up a design.
“We said we wanted a nice building, not just a garage; this is going to last 100 years,” McGarvey said. “They came up with a preliminary design and an artist in the Twin Cities painted a picture based on the architect’s renderings. Mr. Holton used that to convince people to donate.”
But as funds were raised, the question remained as to where the new building would be located.
“The thought at the time was we would tear down the old one and build a bigger one on the spot, but it didn’t have much space beyond that for parking,” McGarvey said.
From there, the city looked at the area between Mill Pond and Fourth Avenue Northeast, next to the power plant. At the time, that area was in bad shape; an old warehouse that had been tax forfeited to the State of Minnesota sat on the spot, as did a bus garage used by the Austin school district. A house also stood on the spot next to the power plant.
“From the city attorney, we found out it belonged to an elderly couple and they were ready to sell,” McGarvey said.
The City was able to purchase the old warehouse for $1 and the HRA bought out and relocated the bus garage. The City had its spot, but the Library Board needed convincing that the area could be much nicer.
“They were concerned with putting a brand new building in an area that was not in great shape,” McGarvey said. “The council had to convince them that if (the library) happened, other things would happen. At the time, we were thinking of putting that trail around Mill Pond and making it one of the premier parks in Austin. So we were putting together two projects at the same time.”
And now, 25 years later, the vision of those individuals still continues to go strong.
“I was in (the library) Monday and I really liked it,” McGarvey said. “I like the new colors that have been introduced into it.
“I think it’s even prettier than when it was brand new.”
With 25 years done, the Library Board and Austin Public Library staff are planning for the next 25 years.
During Wednesday’s celebration, attendees were able to learn more about P25, a project that will allow the library to expand and adapt over the next quarter of a century.
“Libraries have changed in 25 years, and we will probably change quite a bit more in the next 25 years,” said Austin Public Library Director Julie Clinefelter. “This project is many years in the making. When I started as director, I was asked to do a strategic plan. In that process, we talked to a lot of people in the community.”
Among the feedback received from the community was a desire for more programming space.
“One of the big things that we looked into was having a project room with a cement floor, and what we’re looking into is something that will be where the patio is outside,” Clinefelter said. “We want a garage door on it so we can get in and out. Everything in the library is carpeted and trying to do projects with kids and carpet is a bad combination. You can’t do gardening classes or cooking classes.”
Another item the community wanted was a free meeting space.
“It’s really hard to find too many places in town where you can have a meeting without purchasing something or paying,” Clinefelter said. “We want to expand our meeting spaces.”
Clinefelter also said she plans to update the library’s service area.
The original plan was to kick off the P25 plan on March 26, 2020, with the goal of having changes implemented by the 25th anniversary. But like so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop to any further plans.
“When things started to come back online, we asked where are we now,” Clinefelter said. “As it turns out, all of the things we planned for are still pertinent, if not more.”
The City has committed some money to the plan. The library is also seeking to raise funds.
“There are some grants out there that we’ve looked into and are hoping to get to help with the process,” Clinefelter said.
The goal of P25 is to make the library as versatile as possible for the future.
“This is a great building; the people who put it together planned it really well,” Clinefelter said. “The open space is amazing and it is really very versatile. We want to make sure it’s ready for the next 25 years.”
“Everything that was questioned and debated 25 years ago has turned out, in my mind, as good as we could have ever expected,” McGarvey said.