Cutting the ribbon are (from left) Ryan Deery, Peter Savage, Chris Antkoviak, Keith Behm, Kevin Huff, Mary McLeod, Mike Kiella, Sue Buese and Devin Erlandson. (Photo by Virginia Ransbottom)

Allegan District Library celebrates completion of addition, renovation

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

Although the Allegan District Library reopened on April 8 after 16 months of construction, its first official showing wasn’t until May 2, when library board members and staff cut the ribbon and thanked all who helped them move mountains.

Mountains of dirt, that is, filled with discarded bricks from the old courthouse and mountains of federal red tape for a loan that would save taxpayers money.

Not to mention demolishing a city-owned building and moving a historic 180-year-old building over into its place.

And that’s just before construction got started on the $6.5-million voter-approved addition and renovations to the 105-year-old Carnegie section and its 43-year-old addition.

Community members filled the library for the gala event which featured speakers, tours, music, pastry tables and volunteers carrying trays of hors d’oeuvres.

Library board president Mike Kiella thanked the 17,000 people in the district who made the project possible and numerous individuals who contributed in a significant way—too many to name without leaving someone out.

“Our goal is to be a gold star library and it starts with access,” he said. “When I was first appointed to this board 10 years ago, my mother who celebrated her 93rd birthday last Friday called me on the phone and said ‘congratulations—I don’t want to walk down the hill to get in your library anymore.’”

Library director Ryan Deery, who was hired three years ago when the project was just getting off the ground, took a few moments to recount how this project came to be and exactly what he thinks it means to the community.

“The mythical beginnings of this project started with a fresh-faced board member who asked what it would take to build an elevator up to the Carnegie Room so that everyone, no matter their abilities, could access it,” Deery said. “He asked that question again and again and again for many years until that question spiraled into something larger—which was a total improvement of our library.”

But the project didn’t gain momentum until three years ago, when the library board and staff asked what the community wanted from their library in a series of community engagement meetings.

“The voices came from all over the place but the answers were unified,” Deery said. “Like every board member, the community wanted something that was accessible to everyone, no matter their ability or age.”

He said the community also wanted:

• An interactive youth area where youth could congregate, play and learn

• A dynamic and safe teen space where technology could come together

• To bring the illustrious history of the community and this library to life

• To restore the historic Carnegie building and add on a new place

• The addition of meeting rooms of various sizes for the public to come together and study and learn and be a community

• High-tech tools for everyone to bridge the digital divide so no matter the income level, everyone would have access

“Lastly, you wanted a beautiful, inspiring, magnificent space you could be proud of,” Deery said. “I believe all those things have been delivered.

“So every time you come into the library, please remember what you asked for and please be proud of it, because I think a public library is at its core a reflection of the values of the community it serves.”

Historian, author and former Western Michigan University archivist Larry Massie stepped to the podium and described the first time he visited the library.

“It was in 1961 I first bounded up the stairs to the Allegan Carnegie Library. I was assigned a research project from the junior high school.”

He described the ancient smell of old paper—like vanilla—in leather binders and visualized books all over the library in wooden stacks.

“And there was a librarian, Mrs. Hanson,” he said. “Mrs. Hanson was severe. She sat bolt upright. Her hair was arranged in a bun with a big yellow pencil stuck in it. She was on guard.”

Massie said back then there were no computers, copy machines, movies, audio discs, internet or Wikipedia, but they did have something called encyclopedias.

“I was on my way to the catalogue to look up something and noticed a classmate and said in a normal voice, ‘Hello Ted, how are ya?’” he said. “Then I heard one of the most spine chilling noises you could ever hear. It was a cross between a cat that got its tail under a rocking chair and steam issuing from a broken radiator.

“It was ‘sshhhhhhh.’”

Massie said while there was not much shushing going on at the library anymore or leather bound books, there was still the core of the Carnegie library surrounded by a beautiful facility brimming with state-of-the-art technological marvels never imagined back in 1961, let alone 2001 in many cases.

“We can be so grateful to those who caused this to happen,” he said.

City councilman Charles Tripp thanked the library board of directors for their vision and the community of Allegan for supporting it.

He said city representatives have fully supported land conveyance, public improvements and joint discussions to improve the quality of life for all residents and look forward to many more future partnerships with the library.

“On behalf of the city council, I’d like to recognize the library staff for their tireless efforts through this project, congratulate the Allegan District Library on a job well done and offer many thanks to everyone involved for adding another spectacular public investment to our riverfront.”

State Rep. Mary Whiteford said it had been the biggest joy watching this library develop from an idea.

From the time she was very small, the library helped her to dream—her favorite was Nancy Drew mysteries—and then helped her children to dream, too.

Presenting a tribute from the Lansing legislature, she said libraries are an invaluable resource to the community offering a place for citizens to learn, read and grow, no matter their income.

 “These exciting renovations and additions are an encouragement to all to enjoy knowing that the spirit of reading and learning is still alive,” Whiteford said. “The new renovations celebrated today are a fine addition to Allegan’s rich history and a testament to a community’s dedication to the pursuit of knowledge.”

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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