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ELKHART -- Changes are coming to the Elkhart Public Library's main branch. How soon they happen, though, remains to be seen.
The library's board of directors hopes to begin several phases of improvements, said interim director Deb Stewart, perhaps by early next year.
The upgrades are designed to keep the downtown branch, at the corner of Second and High streets, in its current building for another 10 years -- or perhaps much longer.
"This is actually a perfect location for the library," said Stewart, who took over the position in May. "It's quite centralized. We just need to better utilize the space that we have."
While a move to the former Elkhart Foundry & Machine Inc. site was discussed several years ago, that fell through when a public bond issue failed. And though the foundry is finally being torn down, the library is staying put, Stewart said.
Architects have drawn up plans for ways to better use the space inside the library, opened in 1963, and an annex building attached to its east side.
The biggest changes? Reducing the number of circulation check-out points from four to one and shifting the materials on the first and second floors.
Library officials are examining the organization's staffing structure, Stewart said, striving to be more efficient. Consolidating into one circulation point, in the center of the library's first floor, would move toward that goal.
The plans also call for clustering the library's high-demand (and, thus, noisier) sections -- fiction books, audio-visual materials and Internet-equipped computers -- to the first floor. The goal is to allow the public easier access to the materials it uses most often, she said.
Nearly all the interior walls will be removed on the first floor, opening up space for additional meeting areas and computer stations. The second floor will consist of research and reference materials, periodicals and local historical documents.
Other planned changes include shifting all staff offices and areas to the annex building and moving public meeting spaces from the annex to the main building.
Stewart said that, whenever the renovation starts, the library hopes to remain open much of the time. The installation of new carpet, though, will likely cause a brief closure.
Cost estimators visited the facility recently and Stewart expects a full report at a board meeting at month's end. There is some money set aside in EPL's estimated $6.9 million 2011 budget for the renovations, but fundraising will have to be done, she said.
Public meetings will be held to solicit input before final decisions are made.
And while the economy has hit the library's budget like all other public entities, Stewart said the losses have brought about some positives, too.
"It forces you to look at what you're doing and what you should be doing," she said. "And getting rid of those things that are no longer useful or productive."