Back to the Future
By ANDREW MCGINN
The Churdan Public Library is proof that the longer you live somewhere, the more stuff you accumulate.
Back in 1961, after less than a decade in existence, the library moved 1,000 books from its original location on the second floor of City Hall to a new building on Sand Street that has housed the library ever since.
Nearly 60 years later, the library is moving back — albeit temporarily — to where it all started.
And this time, they’re taking 11,939 books with them.
Oh, but if only a library in the 21st century consisted solely of books ...
“Now it’s books and DVDs and computers,” said Marilyn Tilley, youth services director at the Churdan Public Library.
In order to move back to the vacant former City Hall at 604 Hill St., the library even had to install a new, ADA-compliant restroom.
But the staff is positively giddy about moving — because that means the day they never thought would come is at last here.
By November or December, when they lug everything back to Sand Street, the main library will have gained an extra 1,100 square feet of space, and the existing space will be remodeled.
Ground will be broken at 10 a.m. Monday on the library’s $350,000 expansion and renovation. Refreshments will be served.
“I can’t thank our community enough,” said Shari Minnehan, library director.
Not only did the people of Churdan (pop. 386) open their wallets to make the project a reality in record time, they quite literally ate their way to a radically revamped library.
In Churdan, the road to an expanded library is paved with spaghetti suppers, pancake breakfasts and cookouts.
In fact, they were holding so many of them that they worried for a time about becoming a nuisance.
“We were going to the same well all the time,” said Paul Baumgartner, a former library board member.
But then an even worse problem arose.
“The rumor was going that we’d quit,” Minnehan said. “We thought we’d give them a break.”
Come to find out, she said, the community had gotten so accustomed to the dinner fundraisers that they began viewing them as a source of entertainment in an otherwise quiet town.
“It just proves how supportive the community is,” Minnehan said.
Minnehan learned it typically takes a library 14 years to complete a major bricks and mortar project.
So if it seems like the Churdan Public Library has been talking forever about an expansion, in reality, it’s only been a little more than four years.
The campaign to expand the library got underway in December 2013.
They even changed board members and architects along the way, settling on Fort Dodge-based Allers Associates Architects.
In that time, the library aggressively chased after money, both in the form of donations and grants — all of it private money.
The library won $140,000 in competitive grants over two years from the Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., the nonprofit organization that distributes a cut of gaming revenue from Wild Rose Casino to good causes.
Other sizeable grants came from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust ($59,000) and the Sunderland Foundation ($50,000).
In awarding the library an additional $16,801 last month to replace the air conditioner and for furnishings at the soon-to-be expanded library, Greene County Community Foundation executive committee member Jan Scharingson, a retired East Greene High School English teacher, called the Churdan library the “most progressive” library in the county.
“We do things differently,” confessed Minnehan, library director since 2005. “We find what works here.”
Minnehan was told their programming attendance rivals that of a community like Boone (pop. 12,661), making the expansion all the more necessary.
The expansion will provide more space for programs, in addition to the capability for private meeting space — a luxury that never before has been possible. (Heck, right now, most of the library can hear your business even in the bathroom.)
Young adult readers also will get their own space in the remodeled library. Currently, YA books are split between two different locations.
Above all, the finished library will provide some much-needed elbow room.
On Wednesday afternoons, Minnehan said, it’s common to have as many as 30 kids in the library.
“Our running joke is that we only have two rules: no running and no screaming,” she said. “Those are extremely difficult to enforce, but we do our best.”
This will mark the second addition to Churdan’s library since the current building opened in 1961. The library first expanded in the late 1970s because of crowding and has been confined ever since to 2,300 square feet of space.
“It’s fun to watch where it was and how it changes,” Minnehan said.
Longtime residents are delighting in the library’s temporary move back to Hill Street, where three local clubs organized the city’s first library in 1952.
In those days, the library was compact enough to fit on the second floor, while the downstairs was occupied by City Hall, a fire station and even the jail.
This time, the library will require use of the entire building — and even then, some books will need to go into storage for the summer, Minnehan said.
“We’ll get everything put away,” she said, “and then we’ll have to move back.”