New Richmond library holds first public engagement session

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An audience of better than 40 people filled the New Richmond Civic Center Council Chambers Thursday, Aug. 10 with excited participants in the first public engagement session for the new library, conducted by staff from MSR.

Attendees were greeted by tables covered with large sheets of white paper accompanied with markers and sprinkled with candy.

Library Director Kim Hennings commended people for their sacrifice of passing on the first preseason Packers game. She then briefly reviewed the selection process that lead to the hiring of MSR Design, a Minneapolis architectural firm hired to design the new library. Hennings laid out a rough timeline for the process of planning a new library, emphasizing this is the beginning phase of the process, that when all is said and done, could take several years to realize the new library.

Hennings then turned the controls over to MSR principal Traci Lesneski.

"We specialize in libraries. We've worked on libraries all over the country, big, small and everything in between," said Lesneski.

First, Lesneski acquainted the audience with the public library mission and vision statements.

Mission: To be a dynamic and friendly hub to the community and gathering place for people in the New Richmond area to learn, explore and connect.

Vision: To provide a flexible interactive community destination for preservation, education and innovation for the present and future.

Lesneski explained the formidable challenge this way.

"What we are trying to do in this concept phase is to understand how to achieve that (mission and vision) with a building. Tonight is going to be a series of breakout sessions to explore that challenge," said Lesneski.

For the next hour, small groups of participants brainstormed three different elements of the new library; crafting great gathering spaces (interior), landscape ideas and exterior amenities to enhance the space and the experience (exterior), and what will make the library a destination, draw people to the library. This was the moment people had been waiting for, a chance to communicate their own ideas of what this library should be.

Tables spent 20 minutes sharing ideas and recording them on large sheets of paper. Then spokespersons for each table presented two or three of their group's ideas during an audience-wide discussion. MSR staff recorded the ideas on a giant whiteboard and the individual table sheets were collected.

"Everything you give us tonight will help us understand how the building needs to be designed, to be sized," said Lesneski.

The whiteboard was barely able to contain the exhaustive list of imaginative ideas folks came up with. From maker spaces, art galleries and coffee bars to farmer's market, performance space, genealogy center, skating rink and walking trails, audience members got their money's worth out of the evening.

Hennings wrapped up the evening by explaining the next steps.

"Next steps. MSR will take all of these ideas and put them together into a concept. Then we're going to talk about estimated costs for that concept. That's where you guys come in. We're planning public input number two for about mid September. Then we'll take that concept that you guys have all worked on and we're going to do a fundraising feasibility study. We'll go out into the community and ask, 'is this library something that we can afford?' If the answer is yes, we can move forward with fundraising. If the answer is no, we go back to the drawing table and reevaluate the concept again."