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Library renews visions of expansion

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GREENFIELD —A merger of Hancock County’s two library systems is coming to the forefront again, this time with the approval of a new three-year strategic plan for the Hancock County Public Library.

The HCPL serves every township except Vernon Township. A merger with the Fortville-Vernon Township Library was raised in a 2010 financial study for the county library, and again last year through a capital improvement plan. HCPL officials say a merger – which could include opening a new branch in McCordsville – could still be several years and a lot of negotiating away.

But at least for now, HCPL board President Beverly Gard said board members will meet with members of the Fortville-Vernon Township Library to build connections and move toward a possible merger.

The library’s strategic plan is a state requirement every three years and the product of a retreat held by library board members last fall. Not only does it touch on the “turf war” in Vernon Township, but it also address finances and ideas for new programs.

“We do it every three years, but it is a living document,” said Dianne Osborne, director of the library. “Every month, the board is going to touch on the strategic plan and come up with checkmarks – are we doing what we should be doing?”

When it comes to Vernon Township, a Hancock County Public Library branch in McCordsville would be ideal, according to the plan. But officials are also open to taking small steps in the meantime.

Gard, a retired state senator, was the original champion of a countywide library system. About 13 years ago, a state law was passed that allows the public libraries in Hancock County to be funded with income taxes.

Hancock County is the only county in the state that uses income taxes to fund its library, and Gard said at the time Vernon Township was also going to be part of the countywide system. But at the last minute, Vernon Township officials decided to keep the Fortville library independent.

So now, in order for the HCPL to come into Vernon Township, Gard said there must be inter-local agreements and collaboration from both groups.

“You can’t have a physical location, unless they were to come to us and say, ‘We want to merge,’” Gard said.

But Gard points out that McCordsville is the fastest-growing area in Hancock County according to the 2010 census, and plenty of residents want a branch. She doubts anyone would be in favor of closing the Fortville library if a McCordsville branch were to open.

Last year’s capital improvement plan estimated a new branch in McCordsville would cost $2 million, and a project of that magnitude would likely require a new bond issue.  

Even if a McCordsville branch is several steps from becoming a reality, the HCPL might try to take smaller steps to bring services to Vernon Township. Gard said they may at least try to get the Techmobile into the township to serve schools and nursing homes, for example.

Osborne points out that McCordsville’s population includes a lot of young families who could especially benefit from resources and programs from a local library as opposed to driving to Fortville or Greenfield.

Richard Bell, director of the Fortville-Vernon Township Library, said a merger has been discussed off and on for years, and he has a lot of questions about how it would work.

He said he is open to learning more, but at the same time he said bigger is not necessarily always better.

“I think we need to continue to talk, but we need to talk with respect for one another,” Bell said.

McCordsville town manager Tonya Galbraith said there is always interest among residents for the neighborhood amenity of a library.

“Whether it’s just a bookmobile or an actual building, we don’t have a strategic plan that says we should have a full-scale library,” Galbraith said. “But with the other services and amenities we’re offering, a post office and a BMV, the library presence would be good.”

The strategic plan also touches on the Sugar Creek Township branch of the HCPL. The lease on the building ends in 2022, and the owner is currently not willing to sell. The board will work toward negotiating a purchase or building a new facility.

Programming changes include an increase in tutoring for children. Osborne said many children come to the library after school anyway, so it would make sense to partner with a nonprofit organization and offer tutoring services for a wide range of ages.

For adults, Osborne said library officials will also try to make more people aware of the library’s databases. She said the library has a broad scope of Internet databases that can help people of several types of occupations, and staff should be promoting the programs more.

Dave Gray, assistant director of the library, said technology changes will be a priority in the next few years. The aging Techmobile will also be slowly phased out by 2015, and library officials will have to determine what to purchase to replace it.

The library will also see a leadership change with Osborne’s pending May retirement.

Gard was appointed new president of the library board in January, and she said she would also like to see board members become more active in the library.

Gard will be appointing members to committees on finance, outreach, facilities, personnel and endowment.

“My goal is to get committees more involved, more hands-on,” Gard said.

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