ADRIAN - A public safety liability has turned into an opportunity for the city to enhance the Adrian Public Library and complement the downtown streetscape.
Leaders realized the library's facade was cracked in late May, as a result of deterioration in the basement support pillars.
The front of the building was boarded up the next day and an engineer advised the city to remove the facade to reduce weight on the 1953-era building before it fell onto the sidewalk.
A study of its replacement developed into a plan to recover 3,200 square feet of unused space inside the former J.C. Penney department store.
Leaders say the facade replacement will allow the facility to better reflect the library's civic and cultural role in the community.
"Quite honestly, it really looked like a department store," library director Carol Souchock said.
On Jan. 22 the city commission approved the $350,000 project, which is out for bids. Completion is expected by late summer.
A drawing of the proposed facade was released recently, along with details of how the recovered space will be used.
Incorporated into the facade along 143 East Maumee St. will be elements of storefront windows designed to provide natural light.
The city hopes the openness contributes to a pedestrian-oriented downtown environment.
"We have a nice downtown with older buildings. This will make it compatible, but not look like something that it is not," city manager Dane Nelson said.
The library will gain 1,600 square feet of space on the first and the second floors that previously were unavailable to its patrons.
On the second floor, an unused mezzanine area - once used for offices for the department store - will be opened to create seating for public use.
On the street level, a coffee shop is planned on one side of the entrance and an enlarged teen center on the opposite side.
The teen room, now a 6-by-9-feet space, will be expanded to 35-by-15 feet with computers, books, periodicals, and a reading/study area.
"There's no doubt in my mind this will have an impact on our business," Ms. Souchock said.
The library, which has an annual budget of $850,000 for a staff of 14, has about 2,000 patrons a week.
The coffee shop will be operated by a private vendor.
It will be designed with separate entrances allowing it to open earlier than the library, Mr. Nelson said.
Funding for the project was taken from Adrian's rainy-day fund and was not foreseen during earlier planning sessions.
Last year before the damage was discovered, the city was considering "where we'd spend the rare money [we have for] capital projects" Mr. Nelson said.
The city normally spends $450,000 on bricks and mortar projects each year, said Mr. Nelson, who has been city administrator for two years.
He previously was employed as the city's attorney, beginning in 1980.
Ms. Souchock said the city's willingness to assist the library was refreshing.
She also commended the public's response.
"I'm impressed with the support of the city administration. They're making a difficult time much more bearable," said Ms. Souchock, who took over as library director last year.
Prior to that she was the adult services supervisor for the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library in Midland, Mich.
The library traces its beginning to the Ladies Library Association in 1868.
The association joined with the school district library, located on the third floor of the high school in 1887.
A room was opened on the first floor of City Hall for library use in 1890.
Andrew Carnegie kick-started a national drive to build libraries and Adrian took advantage of his generosity to open a Carnegie library in 1909.
The library changed from a school district library to a city library in 1915, and in 1957 the library became a city department.
With a desire for more space evident in the 1970s, the city bought the closed J.C. Penney store on East Maumee Street and opened there on June 12, 1978.
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