GERING — Community members gathered at Gering City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to share their ideas for the future of the Gering Public Library.
Nearly three dozen people attended the library foundation’s annual business meeting, with several sharing words of support for a new facility. No one in attendance had negative comments about the Foundation’s vision for a “destination for future generations.”
The meeting began with words from foundation chair Charles Lieske.
“I think this board has done a better than average job of setting a firm foundation for the future,” he said.
He explained that the board began to strategize shortly after it was formed a year ago.
“We’ve considered not only this proposed building project, but other ways the foundation can be supportive and useful after the building project is complete.”
He said in addition to exploring options for a new or remodeled facility, they’ve also worked on figuring out ongoing costs of operation and various ways they could be addressed.
“We’re cognizant that this project is going to require a serious financial commitment from the community and stakeholder partners,” Lieske said.
He said he felt building a new facility would be the best option. Because of structural issues, the current library cannot be expanded upward, instead, it must come outward. Unfortunately, there is only enough room to come out about 15 feet.
“When you’re looking at $5.1 million to redo what you’re sitting on, versus the $6 million range on a new facility,” he said. “At that point, it doesn’t seem to the foundation that it makes a whole lot of sense to dump another $5 million into that building.”
A new facility would mean increased accessibility, more space and new technology and programming for members of the community. It may also be easier to gather donations for a new building, rather than one that will likely need more upgrades in the not-so-distant future, he said.
Even without a formal push for donations, more than $22,000 has been raised. After expenses, including costs paid to the Oregon Trail Community Foundation for managing the funds, there is $21,961 in the Foundation’s account.
The money came from 33 donors. Of those, 27 were memorials and one donation came from a small library fundraiser, foundation treasurer Tom Swan said.
“Without a major fundraiser, that’s not too bad,” Swan said.
A presentation by foundation secretary Leann Sato outlined the groups objectives, their work so far and potential locations for a new library.
Of more than a dozen spots that have been proposed, several were eliminated for various reasons, leaving two sites: One on 17th Street and one at 13th and K Street.
When the meeting was opened to public comment, several said they felt that the 17th street location would be ideal, including parks board member Don Gentry who said that the location could help improve Northfield Park.
Right now, there is not an estimated cost for the project at the 17th street site but Lieske said it will probably line up with the $5.5-6 million estimate that was figured for the K Street site.
A more concrete number will be available after a study is completed on the location. The study, funded by grants, was supposed to be completed in 2019 but wasn’t due to weather.
“I certainly agree that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend $5.1 million on the location it is now and not gain much,” said Gentry.
Bev Russell, former director of the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library, shared her support for the project and encouraged the public to fill out the community surveys they receive.
“I came to the meeting hoping that the people here and other citizens of Gering will give us an indication of what their preferences are,” Russell said. “I know the main preference is don’t spend any money and get more space, but I found out that doesn’t work too well.”
She suggested seeking out grants that would help with the expansion, as well as with future projects. She said she also wanted to remind people that libraries are more than just “warehouses for books.”
“What we build here and now, will keep paying down the road for our children, our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren some day.”
Retired teacher, Jurene Chief Eagle, said she agreed.
“I’m inspired just coming here tonight,” Chief Eagle said. “Hearing all of these ideas — that needs to get out into the community ... They’ll realize it’s more than just books, it’s all these hopes and dreams for the city.”