Dowagiac library looking to restore original look, expand

DOWAGIAC — More than four decades after the local institution built its first extension, leaders with the Dowagiac District Library are looking to bring back the building’s original look.

Director Matt Weston shared the library’s proposed plans to eliminate its 1973 expansion and to build a new addition to the rear of the structure with members of the Dowagiac Rotary Club, during the organization’s meeting Thursday at the Dowagiac Elks Lodge. Weston showed some initial renderings of two possible redesigns for the library, located at 211 Commercial St. downtown, to the service club that afternoon.

Weston and members of the Dowagiac library board have been brainstorming a possible redesign of the building since last year, and subsequently began working with Cleveland-based architectural firm, HBM, to come up with possible designs. In August, the library hosted two public meetings to gather additional ideas for the expansion.

Weston said the aim of the project — which would be funded through a tax-payer approved millage or bond issue — would be to expand the size of the building, from 6,200 square feet to 15,000 square feet. The additional space would come from a new structure built on the rear end of the building, where its current parking lot is located. A new parking lot would be created in the lot currently occupied by a garage near Main Street, which the library is currently using for storage.

The additional space would serve three purposes: to give patrons who use the library for meetings and other functions more space, to give library staff more room for the programs it hosts for the public and to allow for the institution to retain more books and other materials, Weston said. The last purpose is particularly important, as the staff have had to take items out of circulation in order to make room for new arrivals on its shelves, he said.

“They are not always things that are not being used,” Weston said. “They are things that are not being used enough. It’s been hard to hold on to things we want to hold onto, due to space.”

One of the biggest features of the project will not be what it will add, but what it will subtract: the 1973 addition placed on the front of the building. The structure presents several issues to the library, and its appearance has been likened to a “hamster tunnel going up the front steps,” Weston said.

The project would demolish the previous expansion, and would bring back façade of the original, Carnegie-style building, first opened in 1904.

“I think that would go well with the nice new Commercial Street [improvements] that the city’s worked on,” Weston said.

Architects with HBM created two possible designs for the rear expansion — one that occupies two stories and one that only occupies a single story. The Dowagiac District Library board will vote on which members prefer next week, Weston said.

The improvements, which Weston said would likely cost $3 million or more to complete, will be funded through millage proposal. Weston said that library leaders will likely push toward placing such an initiative on the ballot next August.

Though there is plenty of still work ahead, Weston’s presentation already won over the vote of one of his fellow Rotarians Thursday.

“I would vote for it, just to get that ugly addition taken down,” said Bob Cochrane, the club’s treasurer.

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