NEXT CHAPTER: Task force seeks spots for new Fortville library

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FORTVILLE — The Fortville-Vernon Township Public Library is ready for a new chapter.

Members of a task force are seeking out sites to build a new library, based on findings from a feasibility study that showed the 8,000-square-foot library is struggling to keep up with the township’s rapidly growing population.

“The fire marshal said our fire code was less than 50 people, which isn’t a lot,” said the library’s director, Melissa Loiselle.

The library hired the architect firm of krM Architecture in 2021 to do the feasibility study, the same firm that did the feasibility study for the Hancock County Public Library’s Sugar Creek Branch in New Palestine.

The Fortville library also gauged the public’s feedback through a public survey both online and mailed out with residents’ water bills.

A task force was assembled last year composed of representatives from the local schools, town governments and the business community to follow up on the study’s findings.

“We wanted to see what the community needs, and their responses weren’t surprising,” said Loiselle.

“The results basically indicate the things people wanted to know, like why we don’t have a good children’s space, a good children’s library, meeting rooms, study rooms, communal spaces for technology and, of course, more books,” she said.

Loiselle said the feasibility study indicated that a new facility would better serve the township than expanding the library, which sits on less than eight-tenths of an acre.

The one-story library has sat at the northeast corner of Madison and Broadway Streets since 1986. Before that, it was housed in the Carnegie Library building on Main Street, until the township’s growing population prompted the move to its current location.

Nearly 36 years later and the township has once again outgrown the facility, which is at capacity for books because there’s no room for additional shelves.

Librarian Katie Noonan said she struggles to find room for the library’s 37,000 circulation items, and that a much bigger inventory is needed to serve the growing township.

“Ideally if we were to expand I’d like to have at least 75,000 items, so double what we have now,” said Noonan. “That’s about the average size of the libraries serving a population our size in Indiana.”

The current building also poses a myriad of other challenges.

“We currently only have 19 parking spots, which in itself is a problem, and there are no outlets on the south wall so we have to run cords,” said Loiselle, who added there’s also no separation between public areas and office space.

The building’s air-conditioner also went out over the summer, forcing the staff to use portable units.

Library programs are sometimes held off-site at places like the Hancock Wellness Center in McCordsville to accommodate big groups, like the dozens of families who attend children’s programs.

“We have to be careful about advertising (library programs) too much because we don’t have much space to accommodate the crowd,” said Noonan.

Both she and Loiselle envision the new library serving as a community center with enough meeting spaces and program areas to meet the needs of the community, which often contacts the library looking to reserve space for meetings, tutoring and other events.

“This township is growing quickly, and we want to find a location that serves our population in the best way possible,” Loiselle said.

The goal is for the task force to find a few suitable sites and then create a strategic plan for each one, then to gauge further feedback from the public.

“Our goal is to be very transparent with the public, because we want everyone involved,” said Loiselle.

She said it’s too soon to predict a timeline for when a new library could be built but that the project shouldn’t impact local taxes, thanks to a law authored by former Indiana Sen. Beverly Gard in 1998 which directs Hancock County’s economic development tax revenues to benefit the county’s public libraries.

“We don’t get property taxes, but we share this pool of money with Hancock County Public Library and there is a surplus, so our goal would be to capture some of that money,” said Loiselle.

She said it’s still unknown where the next library would land, but that it will be easily accessible to all of Vernon Township.

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