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Published: Monday, 1/18/2010

Flood-struck libraries move to restore services in Hancock, Putnam counties

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Putnam County Library Director Kelly Ward, in the abandoned Ottawa library in 2008, says the system is ready to rebuild. Putnam County Library Director Kelly Ward, in the abandoned Ottawa library in 2008, says the system is ready to rebuild.
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After surviving the 2007 flood that filled its lower level with water, the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library is trying to weather a different kind of storm: state budget cuts.

The library has slashed staff and hours, and last week its Board of Trustees agreed to ask county voters in May to approve a 0.5-mill operating levy - its first-ever request for operating dollars.

"I would sure like to think we're worth $16 a year. That would be the cost to the owner of a $100,000 home," Jeff Winkle, library director, said. "That's about two-thirds of the cost of a new novel or a children's book."

The levy would generate about $707,000 a year for five years.

Mr. Winkle said that would allow the library to reopen on Thursdays, restore eliminated staff, and resume ordering materials as it did before the state cut its budget by 18 percent last year.

Revenue from the state is expected to drop 7 percent this year, he said. "We're looking at receiving around $600,000 less from the state than in 2008," Mr. Winkle said.

In neighboring Putnam County, the library board agreed this month to advertise for bids to build a library in Ottawa.

The main library has been uninhabitable since the August, 2007, flood filled it with water and ruined all books on bottom shelves.

"It's been a long haul," library Director Kelly Ward said. "Initially there was a slight problem in determining whether or not we had insurance coverage for the building. That took a while, but we finally settled with the insurance company."

The library received a settlement check for $2.7 million and has worked with a local architect on plans for a building for nearly a year. Ms. Ward said the library is expected to cost $2.88 million.

It will be slightly smaller - about 18,700 square feet, compared with more than 20,000 at the former location - and will be on Putnam Parkway near the new Ottawa Elementary School, well away from the flood zone.

In the meantime, the library has been operating out of less than 2,000 square feet it rents at the Putnam County Educational Service Center.

More than 50,000 books from its collection are in storage and inaccessible to library users.

"We thought it would be six to eight months, and here it's been two years," Ms. Ward said, adding that library users have been understanding.

"I think the biggest adjustment is there's nowhere to sit and read the newspaper," she said. "We have one comfy chair and that's it. I think people will be grateful when the library is back and open."

Although it's getting closer to beginning construction, the Putnam County District Library has not been immune to state budget cuts.

Ms. Ward said hours, staff, and spending on materials have been reduced at the library's eight branches across the county.

"Things are tight, as they are with all the libraries," she said.

The former library building in Ottawa, which Ms. Ward said flooded two more times since it was inundated in August, 2007, is for sale.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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