GARY | The city's main library at 220 W. Fifth Ave. will be renovated as the South Shore Museum & Cultural Center at a cost of $2 million rather than shuttered as originally proposed earlier this year.
On Tuesday, the Gary Public Library Board voted 4-2 to approve design plans and authorize procurement of financing for construction of the cultural center. Board members Sadie Sheffield and Nancy Valentine voted against the resolution, citing ongoing financial problems.
The vote was a "now or never" chance to save the library building, said Tony Walker, board president.
"We talked about closing the library in March. There was an outcry from the public about shuttering this building," Walker said before the vote. "If we don't take this chance, this building will be boarded up and be another eyesore in Gary."
Forms + Funktions Inc., a Gary architectural firm, began working on plans for the building's renovation in September, Walker said.
At its Oct. 24 meeting, the board voted to repurpose the building as part of the reorganization of the Gary Public Library system to reduce costs. With the circulation function of the library eliminated, a smaller staff would be needed, he said, resulting in money saved in wages and benefits.
Some of the library's books and other materials would be distributed to the branch libraries. Other material could be sold or donated to not-for-profits. Government documents and other major collections would remain at the new museum and cultural center.
Residents packed the meeting Tuesday, but public comments weren't heard until after the vote.
Rosalyn Mitchell, principal of Forms + Funktion Inc., presented a PowerPoint of the architectural design for the museum and cultural center. Although Mitchell said the building is structurally sound, there are some major problems with water in the basement that will be rectified.
She recommended Griffin Dewatering, of Hammond, install a dewatering system for $100,000 to $150,000. Roof repairs also would be needed, Mitchell said.
Plans call for the first floor to feature three large exhibit areas. The Steel City exhibit would be incorporated into the new center, as would the granite circulation desk.
The first floor also would include a bookstore/souvenir shop, a cyber cafe with Internet access, a coffee shop and a large community room with kitchenette that could be used for meetings or events.
On the second floor, the design calls for exhibit space; a renovated Indiana Room with historical collections; a special collections area; a small state-of-the-art theater and two recording rooms "where families could come in to record family histories," Mitchell said.
There would also be an arcade "so youth have a space to come in and have fun periodically," she said.
Mitchell said having a cultural center in Gary would enhance the quality of life for residents.
"We have no space like this in our city, or I believe in East Chicago or Hammond," she said. "It would be good to have this in northern Lake County."