NEW PALESTINE — Mike Schull and Joseph Borelli’s office is bursting with books.
Schull, the outreach manager at the Sugar Creek branch of the Hancock County Public Library, and Borelli, a bookmobile driver, call the back office home, but so do hundreds of books on shelves and in bins.
The crowded space is one of many in the library branch officials say has outgrown its location in downtown New Palestine.
The Hancock County Public Library Board recently approved the purchase of a 5-acre tract of land in the 5800 block of U.S. 52, less than a mile from the library’s current location, from Justus Property Management for $700,000 from the library system’s rainy day fund.
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The library has six years left on its lease for the current facility, a 7,480-square-foot former drugstore at 5087 U.S. 52, so the new branch won’t be built any time soon, but board members said the location — adjacent to the Woodland Terrace senior living facility — and price of the land just down the road were too good to pass up.
They added they hope to keep building costs under $2 million.
For years, the board has weighed building a new branch or renovating the existing facility that serves the county’s west side; in 2010, the library made preliminary plans to move forward with a $985,000 renovation but later scrapped the effort, citing the still-unstable economy.
But the need remained, board president Beverly Gard said; the current branch can’t adequately house its collection or provide space for patron programs.
“We’ve been renting for 15 years, and we haven’t gained any equity,” she said. “The current building has outgrown the needs of the community.”
Board member Harlan Smith, a member of the group that advocated for a Sugar Creek extension of the library in the mid 90s, spotted the land for sale and alerted the library board to the opportunity to relocate.
The current location lacks adequate space for programming and parking, officials say. The building contains only one small meeting room with a capacity for 36 people; for popular youth programs, librarians must issue first-come, first-serve tickets in order to prevent overcrowding.
Popular children’s programs can draw as many as 150 people per show to the library’s Greenfield branch, said library director Dave Gray; meanwhile, the Sugar Creek branch is limited by its size.
Some collections have outgrown their allotted spaces; the young adult section has expanded into an adjacent hallway from its original spot. The current facility also has no space for smaller study rooms, which are among the most popular amenities at the Greenfield branch, Gray said.
“We’ve done what we can with the current facility to try to make things as efficient as possible, but we’re kind of limited with what we have,” he said.
Sugar Creek branch employees are excited about the possibilities for a future facility, said branch manager Jeanette Sherfield.
Schull, the outreach manager and one of the drivers of the bookmobile, hopes the move will provide room to add another vehicle or expand the branch’s outreach programs, he said.
Borelli, who also helps drive the bookmobile to rural communities and nursing homes, said the best part will be working in a building that has been designed to be a library, instead of trying to adapt an existing building to serve as one.
With six years until the current lease is up, the library board has time to plan and save for the construction of a new facility, Gray said.
“It’s a great piece of land and a great opportunity,” he said. “We’ve kind of been looking in the area. We knew when we extended the lease this last time, we might have opportunities to purchase land come up.”
Finding an architect and planning the facility will take at least a year, Gard said, and moving the collection will likely be a daunting process.
Gard said the library board is pleased to have found a way to see to the needs of the Sugar Creek branch, as expansion has been in the long-range plans of the library district for years. She hopes the library will be able to find a way to finance the construction process without taking out loans of more than $2 million, which would mean undergoing the lengthy process of taking the decision to the public for a referendum vote.