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New Richmond's library conversation begins

Local resident Scott Counter points to conceptual drawings of a possible new library building following the May 21 community conversation designed to gather input from the public.1 / 3
Sara Rothholz Weiner (left) from the Cuningham Group answers a question during last week's community conversation at Friday Memorial Library. Also pictured are Chad Clow with Cuningham Group and Library Director Scott Vrieze.2 / 3
The preliminary design for a possible new library building in New Richmond shows how a structure might fit on the current site. The design includes a special children's area (the round portion at the front) and other amenities. Architects will later examine possible designs for the Community Commons site.3 / 3

New Richmond area residents have seen a glimpse into the possible future of the community's public library.

The Friday Memorial Library hosted the first of three "community conversations" May 21 to gather people's input about a proposed new library building, which will eventually replace the current 50-year-old structure downtown.

The planning process for a new 23,000-square-foot building began this winter when the city hired the architectural firm, the Cuningham Group, to come up with possible designs. After meeting with selected members of the community and city leaders, a preliminary plan has been put to paper.

Last week, architects unveiled those plans but noted that changes can and will be made as the public offers comments and suggestions.

"It's to help the conversation," said Cuningham Group principal Chad Clow of the early plans. "This isn't about selling a design. We're just showing the possibilities at this point."

Architect Sara Rothholz Weiner called the proposal a "very preliminary concept design." She said public input will help guide the process from now through construction.

The projected cost of the new library as proposed is about $4.7 million, according to the architects. According to Friday Memorial Library Director Scott Vrieze, about $1 million has already been saved for the project.

The next task is to raise enough funds to make the building a reality, he told the crowd. City officials expect to approach area foundations for possible grants, and they will also be seeking donations large and small from area residents.

"I'm going to be out there with my hand out ... or selling pencils on the corner," he joked.

The goal, Vrieze said, is to raise at least 80 percent of the cost for the new building rather than rely heavily on city tax funds and contributions from surrounding municipalities.

"The taxpayers are overburdened as it is," he said. "We'd like to avoid any additional tax levy at this point."

If the new library ends up resembling the design unveiled last week, the new structure would include numerous amenities. A circular children's library area has been designed into the project, as well as expanded computer stations, meeting rooms, after-hours cyber lounge, indoor/outdoor fireplace, outdoor seating areas, gardens and numerous "green building" upgrades.

Clow said the hope is to use some of the existing building's brick and wood in the new building in an effort to recycle some of the materials and keep costs down.

Responding to a question from the audience, Clow said it didn't look like adding to the existing library building was the best idea for the new facility. He said the architectural firm was recommending an entirely new facility.

The proposed building would take up about half the available lot, but there would still be room for a large lawn and possible access to the Willow River.

Without eating into the park space, the architects are suggesting that parking along First Street be converted to 90-degree angle spaces instead of parallel spaces.

Clow said there is plenty of room to accomplish that task, and by doing so available parking would rise from the current 29 spaces to 62.

First Street could still remain a two-way roadway, he noted, even though some in the audience suggested that it might be a dangerous proposition to be backing out of a parking space on that busy street.

Cuningham Group isn't finished with its evaluation process, however. Next up is a study of the Community Commons site.

Vrieze said a community conversation would be scheduled in the coming months to examine that site and the advantages and disadvantages of building next to the old middle school.

In other library news, the city continues to gather survey cards from local residents. The cards ask residents to rank the top five things they hope a new library will include. Visit the city's website at to provide your input.

For more than 10 years, Friday Memorial Library's 8,500-square-foot building has been beyond capacity. For similar-sized Wisconsin communities, Vrieze said, New Richmond is the third busiest public library but is operating in the second smallest facility.

He said the library needs more space for its collections, quiet areas for reading and studying, and additional computer stations to meet growing demand.