GLENDALE - After more than a decade of discussing renovations to North Shore Library, elected officials will soon decide whether the 31-year-old facility should pursue a $3 million facelift.

Himmel and Wilson Library Consultants recently presented the findings of its facility study to municipal officials in Glendale, Bayside, Fox Point and River Hills. After outlining the shortcomings of the existing facility, the consultant recommended the library undertake a renovation, which could cost between $3 million and $3.5 million.

Building a new library, by contrast, would cost $7 million to $9 million — an estimate that does not include site development or acquisition costs. After nine years of debating the merits of renovation or relocation, the North Shore Library Board decided two years ago to choose the more affordable route of renovating its existing space.

Bill Wilson, of Himmel and Wilson, said the library board has been stuck in "analysis paralysis" over the years because of the high construction costs coupled with the library's low profile over the years.

"You've been paralyzed from moving forward because dollar signs are steep, there's not the political will or there's not a heavy demand from the public," he said.

North Shore Library Director Susan Draeger-Anderson will soon approach elected officials in each of the four member communities for funding for a feasibility study, which is estimated to cost $35,000 to $50,000.

The feasibility study is necessary to determine the scope of the renovations, providing schematics and detailed cost figures for a potential renovation. 

If the renovation moves forward, the library would need to be closed during the construction process. It's possible that operations could be temporarily relocated to another space during that time. 

Library challenges

The North Shore Library serves 25,000 people in a 16,160-square-foot building. Its per-capita square footage is 0.64, which is the smallest of any other suburban library in Milwaukee County. By contrast, Brown Deer's ratio is 1.22, Shorewood's is 1.59 and Whitefish Bay's is 1.68.

Wilson said North Shore Library should work with the building owner to acquire 3,000 square feet in the rear of the first floor, which would bring the library up to 0.75 square feet per capita.

In addition to being undersized, the North Shore Library space is long and narrow - roughly 75 feet wide by 200 feet long. The long and narrow shape of the building has been further exaggerated by walls that segment the space into even narrower spaces, Wilson said.

"For some reason in the building's design they took long and narrow and made it longer and narrower," he said. "It's not the most efficient operation or attractive way of laying out space."

The library's tall bookshelves are packed into a long, narrow space extending all the way from the circulation desk to the rear of the building, reducing sight lines and adding to the cramped feel.

The bookshelves are overstocked, adding to the cramped feeling. The library has reduced the size of the collection from 100,000 volumes to 80,000 volumes in the last two years by eliminating dated, inaccurate and poor quality materials.

The North Shore Library's bookshelves are more packed than most other libraries in Milwaukee County. The library has 6.07 volumes per square foot. By comparison, Whitefish Bay has 3.46 volumes per square foot, Shorewood has 4.47 and Brown Deer has 5.16.

Renovation goals

Anyone who has been to the library knows it needs new carpeting, furniture and more vibrant lighting. The bathrooms are also in need of a major update. 

In January, the North Shore Library Foundation repainted and re-carpeted the front hallway and the children's room. Paul Pedersen, the president of the foundation, said the $15,000 price tag on the paint and carpet is a small price to make young families feel comfortable and to give the community a taste of how the library could be improved in the future.

Aside from a new coat of paint and new carpet, the renovation would also knock down some walls. A major goal of the renovation would be to transform the long, narrow and segmented space into more of an open concept design.

The meeting room in the front of the building would be moved to the back of the building, along with staff areas that occupy the core of the space.

In place of the meeting room, a circulation desk would be installed to greet visitors. With the existing configuration, visitors do not encounter a staff member until they pass a large pillar in the middle of the hallway entrance.

A new children's area would also be created under the renovations. The children's section has room for some children's books, but children's media items are mixed with adult items in another room. Children's non-fiction items are mixed with adult items back in the long, narrow section of bookshelves. There is also a need for children's storage, as all of the toys and props used for children's programming are crammed into one small office space.

Wilson also suggested creating a slightly larger, more defined space for teenagers.

Community perspectives

Part of Himmel and Wilson's facility study included focus groups with the public and a web survey. 

Wilson received a wide array of opinions about the library ranging from people asking why North Shore Library can't be more like Whitefish Bay to those who question the need for a library at all. The majority of input showed a support for renovation, though.

Some community members indicated they were not aware of the library because it is tucked back from the roadway on the first floor of an office building. Wilson suggests improving the signage near the roadway and possibly removing the berm between the road and the building.

After the presentation, several Bayside village trustees seemed skeptical about whether a renovation was in the best interest. Bayside Trustee Daniel Muchin said only 16 Bayside residents visit the library per day, which costs the village $24 per person per month.

"What is it that I'm going to give to those people that is going to enhance the service, increase the (number of) people and decrease my operating costs when I have competition going between public safety, roads, water and everything else a community has to do," he asked.

Wilson said the value of libraries is not easily represented in dollars and cents, since it is a quality of life issue. If any of the four communities decide to break away from North Shore Library, they would still need to pay fees to the Milwaukee County Federated Library System. State law requires communities to pay for library services, either within their own community or to a neighboring community.

Draeger-Anderson said she would like to see more people spend time in the library, rather than picking up a book and leaving. To do that, the library needs updated furniture and a comfortable lounge area. She would also like to see spacious meeting rooms, possibly with glass doors that can be folded back when not in use.

She said she would like to see the library embraced by everyone from seniors to working professionals to high school students. 

"Libraries add value to the community and are reflective of the community," Draeger-Anderson said. "Is this what the North Shore looks like? I don't think so."

"It's time we give the community a library that is worthy of the North Shore," said North Shore Library Board President Kurt Glaisner.


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