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One for the books


Wide-open wings with spacious children’s and teen sections. Comfortable seating. A drive-up window where you can pick up materials reserved online earlier in the day. A café and gift shop. Study rooms and a computer center.

These features may sound like those you’d find at some at some of the area’s larger book retailers, but they’re also amenities that will be part of the Public Library of Des Moines’ new Central Library when it opens in the spring of 2006.

Office workers viewing it from above Gateway West are also likely to see Greater Des Moines’ first use of a “green” roof made up of grasses and herbs, which will make the library appear to blend into the surrounding park when seen from above.

Though the question of the green roof is expected to be decided by the library board of directors on Tuesday, it’s the layout and amenities planned within the library that will really capture people’s attention, says PLDM Director Kay Runge.

“I think one of the things you’ll experience is the amount of materials that are available to you,” Runge said from her third-floor office in the present Central Library at 100 Locust St.. “In this building they’re tucked away into every nook and cranny, and you really don’t realize how much is available to you.

“I had a man call me the other week and say, ‘You don’t have a comfortable seat in the whole library,’” Runge added. “I said, ‘I understand that and we’re working on it.’”

Scheduled for completion in April 2006, the new Central Library will join the John and Mary Pappajohn Higher Education Center, at 12th Street and Grand Avenue in anchoring the northeast quadrant of Gateway West.

The 110,000-square-foot, two-story structure will form the hub of the most comprehensive citywide overhaul in the history of Iowa’s largest public library system. Using $48 million in public-private funding, the Des Moines Public Library Foundation’s plans call expansion or renovation of each of the library’s five existing branches, with the final phase being being construction of a new southeast Des Moines branch in 2010.

“One of the exciting aspects of this project is that we’re doing so much at one time to each corner of the city,” said Kim Walker, an attorney with Faegre & Benson LLP and co-chairman of the capital campaign for the library foundation.

Some renovations have already been completed at the North Side and South Side libraries, including new flooring and carpeting, and a new teen center has been added onto the South Side branch.

Bids are now being taken to begin constructing an addition to the East Side library a year from now, to be followed by a doubling in size of the Franklin Avenue branch. The final phase calls for construction of a southeast branch on a portion of a 60-acre tract the city owns south of Army Post Road and east of Indianola Avenue, where two schools and an aquatic center are also planned.

“The bottom line is, we really view this as a communitywide project,” Walker said “We want to complete our fund raising so that every corner of the city gets the benefits of the new library facility. We really view this as bringing new resources to the entire community.”

Public libraries across the United States have been enjoying a renaissance of interest and funding from their communities, Runge said.

“We’re following on the heels of Nashville, Memphis, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Minneapolis, all of which have renovated or are building new libraries right now,” she said.

The idea of renovating each branch in conjunction with constructing a new Central Library originated with the late A. Arthur Davis, who with his wife, Judith McCoy Davis, funded a study in 1997 that determined it would require $48 million to bring the branches’ physical plants, technology and collections up to date.

Of that amount, $20 million has been committed by the city of Des Moines, and $5 million will come from Polk County through the state’s Vision Iowa program. The remaining $23 million has been pledged by the Des Moines Public Library Foundation. So far, the foundation has received approximately $18.5 million in private contributions, leaving about $4.5 million to be raised.

The foundation plans to focus on one branch at a time, with fund-raising efforts now centered on the $3 million East Side Library addition, which is scheduled to be completed in August 2006. .

For the East Side branch, the H. Dale and Lois Bright Foundation has pledged a gift of $500,000, and the city has committed just under $1 million. The Bright Foundation gift “is really serving as a wonderful catalyst” for raising the other $1.5 million needed, Walker said.

At the same time, the foundation is working to identify more potential major donors to commit to the other branch projects, particularly the Franklin Avenue, South Side and Southeast branches, he said.

Though generous donors are making the library’s capital projects a reality, will the library system have the funding to operate its expanded branches adequately? A good question, said Runge, who recently announced the Franklin Avenue and South Side branches would reopen on Sundays this fall after having had to curtail Sunday operations due to lack of funding.

Runge said her staff is now determining how the system’s budget will need to be adjusted over the next several years. Among the bright spots, from Runge’s perspective, is that the new Central Library, which will have about three times the usable space of the current downtown facility, will have an improved energy efficiency that will save an estimated $40,000 per year in utility costs.

Additionally, the city has committed $1.5 million in additional funds to purchase books and materials for the Central Library, the expanded Franklin Avenue branch and the Southeast branch, Runge said. That’s above the funding that has enabled the library system to modernize its materials over the past seven years, which lowered the average age of a book at the library from 19 years down to about 7 years old. The goal is to reach an average materials age of five years, she said.

Much like the pull of the brand-new Jordan Creek Town Center, the new central library should also have the effect of drawing people who may not have visited a library for years. Runge estimates the new central branch could see as many as 2,000 visitors a day, compared with about 500 daily visitors currently. Assuming some of those new patrons will come from outside Des Moines, those additional visits will provide more funding for the library, which receives state money each time it lends materials to other library systems’ users.

Library users will find a number of new features and conveniences in the new central library, among them self-serve checkouts, separate drive-up lanes for picking up and dropping off materials, and about 50 free underground parking spaces underneath the building.

True bibilophiles will find easier access to special collections, which because of the library’s open layout will be readily accessible rather than behind locked doors . Runge said library patrons will even be able to carry their drinks with them out of the café, provided they have lids on them. There will also be a bookstore that will be operated by the library foundation.

With a skin of two glass panes with a copper mesh sheathed between them, the library will have an open atmosphere that will allow visitors to view the park outside.

“It will be a nice place to hang out and read a book or a magazine and just relax,” said Pam Deitrick, the Central Library’s branch manager.

Fund-raising effort on track

You don’t have to be a corporate giant or a big foundation to contribute to the Public Library of Des Moines’ capital campaign. For $20, individuals can “buy” one square foot of the new Central Library or a square foot of any of the branches.

“We want everyone to have an opportunity to make this happen in our community;” said Kim Walker, co-chairman of the library’s fundraising campaign. “It’s not dependent on who you are or how much you make; it’s truly a community resource for everybody.”

Of approximately $18.5 million raised from private sources so far, about $60,000 from 1,000 individuals has been contributed so far through the buy-a-square-foot program.

“We’ve sold almost 3,000 square feet of library, which is pretty cool,” Walker said.

The campaign’s two largest private contributions to date, $2.5 million each, have been committed to the Central Library by the Kruidenier Foundation and the Florence and Gardner Cowles Foundation. Other large gifts include $650,000 from the Myron Blank family for the children’s section of the Central Library. The John Ruan Foundation has also contributed $500,000 to the overall project.

Corporate donors have been generous as well. Among the largest contributors are:

Principal Financial Group Inc., $1.8 million;

Meredith Corp. and the Meredith Family Foundation, $1 million;

Allied Insurance group, $750,000;

Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., $600,000;

AmerUs Group Co., $480,000;

The Des Moines Register, $250,000; and

Wells Fargo & Co., $250,000.

Walker said he anticipates wrapping up the capital campaign within the next two years.

“It has been so exciting how supportive the community has been for what the library does for all of its residents,” he said. “The campaign has been so well received, and we’re excited to continue it, and we’re confident we’ll complete it successfully.”

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