It’s clear from the level of volunteer commitment — along with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations provided by the community — that a lot of people in this area have strong positive feelings about libraries.
Three of Wexford County’s libraries are beginning or finishing major projects, two of which involve the construction of completely new facilities.
In Mesick (located in Springville Township), organizers recently finished renovating an old hardware store to be used as the new location for the library/community center; in Manton, organizers are close to reaching their $500,000 goal to begin building a new facility across from the town’s gas station; and in Cadillac, organizers are gearing up to purchase a new roof, HVAC system and furniture — expenditures expected to cost close to $500,000.
On Nov. 9, 2019, the Springville Township Community Center and Library opened to the public and library board member Ben Townsend said the reaction they received was phenomenal.
“About 350 people showed up,‘ Townsend said. “We ran out of hotdogs in about 45 minutes. We had to run and get some more.‘
Previously operated out a building that was the size of a small house, Townsend said the Mesick library has needed an upgrade for quite some time.
“It’s just beautiful,‘ Townsend said of the new facility. “It changed the whole complexion of town.‘
Going from around 1,000 square feet to 2,400 square feet, Townsend said the new building has enough room to double as a community center; since opening, Townsend said they’ve already booked the facility for numerous community events, including for birthday parties, Bible studies, Springville Township meetings and more.
Townsend said a number of local companies donated thousands of dollars worth of labor and supplies to make the project possible. If not for these donations, Townsend said he’s not sure the project would have happened.
One of the library’s walls — designed to look like a bookshelf — has the names of all the donors who contributed to the project.
Springville Township Deputy Clerk Sharon Ream has been involved in raising money for the library for a long time.
Over the course of nearly 30 years, Ream slowly stocked up funds in the township’s reserves to eventually be used to build a new library: the township was able to contribute $500,000 toward the project.
“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done so far,‘ Ream said. “Mesick’s been pretty stagnant for a while. We saved a beautiful facility in town and people are really excited about it.‘
Ream said helping to build a new library in town has been her dream for a long time. Libraries are more than just a place where people come for books, she said. Townsend agreed, saying libraries are focal points of the community and places where people gather together for any number of purposes.
While the facility is functional and operating at full capacity, Ream said they still need to expand the parking lot — something she is looking for grant funding to complete, hopefully within the next year.
In Manton, organizers have been busy for several years raising money to build a new facility in town to replace the old library. Like Mesick before their new facility was opened, Manton’s library is the size of a small house — in fact, it used to be an actual home before the library moved in permanently in 1933.
The proposed library is expected to be around three times the size of the old library, with space for several rows of books, a computer lab, children’s area, teen room, genealogy research room, a general meeting room, two private rooms for tutoring, three bathrooms, and a staff break room.
Steering Committee chairperson Linda Kimbel said they’re very close to reaching their goal — so far raising around $310,000.
She said their goal is to break ground on the new facility this spring.
While not a complete facility overhaul like in Mesick and Manton, Cadillac-Wexford Public Library Board Director Tracy Logan-Walker said they have their own sizeable project in the works.
Within the next one to two years, Logan-Walker said they’d like to replace the roof, which is pushing 30 years old and nearing the end of its useful life. She said this project is estimated to cost roughly $300,000.
She said they also plan to replace the aging heating and air condition system at a cost of $120,000-$150,000. Out of the two projects, Logan-Walker said the HVAC replacement is most pressing; in the summertime, hot conditions outside can make the library very uncomfortable, she said.
Although they have a reasonable fund balance, Logan-Walker said it won’t cover the cost of both projects, which is why they’re planning on raising money and applying for grants to cover the difference.
Another purchase they’ve been needing to make at the library is new furniture; the old chairs and tables are nearly 14 years old.
The Cadillac Leadership Class has made replacing the library’s furniture their fundraising goal for this year, which Logan-Walker said was a huge burden lifted off their shoulders, allowing them to focus on the other two major projects on the horizon.
Cadillac Leadership Class co-chair Jason Traviss said out of the proposals they received for projects this year, replacing the library’s furniture had the potential to positively impact the greatest number of people.
“It touches upon every aspect of the community,‘ Traviss said. “We wanted to do the most good for the most people with this project. The library is everybody.‘
Logan-Walker said they’ll likely purchase the new furniture in May or June, around the time they get the money from the Leadership Class.
The Cadillac, Manton and Mesick libraries all are affiliated and coordinate programming and services offered to the community.
Logan-Walker said sometimes it seems to her that there’s a perception that libraries are quiet, outdated, dying establishments.
“That is far from the truth,‘ Logan-Walker said. “Last year, the Cadillac location alone saw over 70,000 visitors, and the library system (including branches in Manton, Mesick, and Buckley) offered over 320 programs for ages 0-120, provided over 40,000 computer sessions, and circulated over 140,000 items.‘