ROOM TO GROW: Spacious new Sugar Creek library opens Monday

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NEW PALESTINE — For Jeanette Sherfield, the new building is both library and lighthouse.

Sherfield, the manager of the Sugar Creek Branch of the Hancock County Public Library, noted the way the new 15,000-square-foot facility shines like a beacon, built the way it is to take advantage of natural light, and with lots of lights illuminating the shelves of books, magazines, public computers and seating spaces.

Sherfield and other staff members in the past week have taken many trips from the old branch location to the new site, 5731 W. U.S. 52, about a mile west, to transfer the library’s collection and other items they could reuse at the new site. The $4.8 million facility will open at 9 a.m. Monday to patrons. The old library closed Feb. 3 to facilitate the move.

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All of the branch’s books and shelves were transferred between Sunday and Wednesday by staff members and Whitlock Construction, a Chandler, Indiana-based construction company that specializes in moving library shelves. Whitlock Construction also built the new shelves at the facility, said owner Bob Whitlock.

While not everything is complete at the new location — some seating is still on its way — library director Dave Gray said staff members are excited to welcome patrons inside the doors of the facility, which is about twice the size of the library’s previous location, a former drugstore and post office measuring 7,480 square feet.

A dedication is planned for April 7, during National Library Week, Gray said.

The new library branch has a lot of room to grow, Sherfield and Gray said: The collection is laid out in a more spacious fashion, and the bottom shelves of the main library’s stacks aren’t in use yet, Sherfield said, which should provide a better line of sight for patrons reading the books’ spines.

Sherfield said it’s been exciting to begin working in a brand-new facility instead of making do in a structure built for another use and then retrofitted.

Deborah Williams, who manages the youth section of the Sugar Creek Library, said the move has gone more smoothly and quickly than she expected. She’s excited to welcome the library’s youngest patrons to the new department, which boasts a large blue-and-green clubhouse purchased with help from the Friends of the Library, a reading nook, kids’ computers and the Hancock Health children’s programming room.

“There’s lots more seating and space,” she said. She added the three librarians and youth assistant who work in the department are also excited about the new storage areas for crafting, story time and other needs.

Stones outside the main entrance are emblazoned with “Hancock County Public Library Sugar Creek Branch, Dr. Ralph and Grace Rea Memorial Building.” The library was able to move ahead on the project years early thanks to a $3.5 million gift from the couple’s estate, which was received in 2017.

The library’s board in July 2016 purchased the land from Justus Property Management for $700,000, using money from the library system’s rainy day fund. The board said then that the construction wouldn’t happen any time soon.

For years, the board had weighed building a new branch or renovating the existing facility that serves Sugar Creek township; in 2010, the library made preliminary plans to move forward with a $985,000 renovation but later scrapped the effort.

The branch’s former location at 5087 W. U.S. 52 had for years proved cramped for the increasing number of patrons visiting it, causing problems with limited parking and overcrowded events. From 2012 to 2016, the library saw nearly 20,000 more visitors each year walk through its doors.

Limited event seating forced librarians to get creative, issuing first-come, first-serve tickets for popular programs to prevent overcrowding. The new building contains a large children’s area with a playhouse, a designated teen section, more study and lounging areas and meeting and youth programming rooms that are big enough to accommodate many more event-goers, Gray said.

Former board president Beverly Gard said the library’s board of directors had planned and saved for many years to make the building a reality. Her last official action in 2016 as board president was to sign the papers to purchase the property, about five acres located in front of the Woodland Terrace senior living complex.

“(The new branch is) a testimony to the hard work of the staff and the board,” she said. “The new board seems just as committed as we were.”

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The new Sugar Creek Branch of the Hancock County Public Library, 5731 W. U.S. 52, New Palestine, opens 9 a.m. Monday.

A dedication is planned for April 7, during National Library Week.

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