Indy Public Libraries: You decide how to renovate and honor historical branches

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By Lindy Thackston

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (July 9, 2015) – With so many electronic reading gadgets, libraries might seem a thing of the past.

But to many Hoosiers, the library is not a lost pastime. And the good news for those library lovers is several branches of the Indianapolis Public Library are about to get new life.

It’s part of the Indianapolis Public Library Strategic Plan through 2020.

First up is the East Washington Branch. How should it be renovated to respect history? That’s up to you.

“It is an historic building and we have a lot of appreciation and respect for the charm of this building and the story it tells us,” said Jackie Nytes, CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library.

The East Washington Branch is one of the famed “Carnegie Libraries” and is one of only two still standing in Indianapolis. The other is the Spades Park Branch.

Andrew Carnegie built an empire in steel, then gave plenty of it away by funding a system of public libraries across the country. Carnegie grants helped build 164 libraries in Indiana, more than in any other state.

He gave the East Washington Branch money in 1909 and the library opened its doors the next year, with two reading gnomes perched above the entry.

It hasn’t changed much in more than 100 years.

Nytes says there was a little update in the 1970’s, but it’s never been brought to current standards. For example, there’s not even an elevator and a lot of older readers and moms with strollers spend their days at the branch.

“It’s a fixture in the community so as much as we want to renovate it and add the important features for today’s service, we know that it’s important to celebrate the heritage that the architecture represents so we’ll try to do both,” said Nytes.

Nytes says Mohler Architects has a long history of updating Carnegie Buildings.

You can meet the architects at a public meeting Thursday night and give your ideas on how best to renovate while still preserving the history.

The architects will be back in August with a response on what they can feasibly do. They’ll present final plans in September. Construction will begin in 2016.

They expect to renovate the current building and also add more than 2,000 square feet.

“We can’t do everything that’s possible in a library,” said Nytes. “We have to make some choices, so it’s really important to get some validation from the public about the services and the activities that they feel are most needed in their local community.”

The meeting is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the East Washington Branch at 2822 E. Washington Street.

A handful of libraries across the city will get similar treatments and input is needed for those projects as well.

“It’s really an exciting time for Indianapolis because we have the opportunity to respond to people’s requests in several of our neighborhoods,” said Nytes.

The Southport Branch, built in the late 1970’s, will be renovated for the first time since it opened.

The Brightwood Branch was built in 1972 and is currently in a rented facility. A new 15,000 square foot branch will be built.

The Eagle Branch will be replaced with an up-to-date facility.

There will be multiple public meetings for each project.

Other branches that will be an update include the Perry Township Branch, the Wayne Branch, the Michigan-Road Area Branch, the Ft. Benjamin Harrison Branch, the Lawrence Branch, and the Glendale-Area Branch.

These planned Capital Projects are funded from individual bond issues approved by the Indianapolis City-County Council totaling $58.5 million that will be assessed without any increase in the Library’s current debt service tax rate.

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