By K.O. Jackson
For the Pharos-Tribune
— PERU — Built in 1902, from its elaborate stained-glass windows, to its sturdy tall pillars, the Carnegie Peru Library was meant to withstand the test of time.
However, that doesn’t mean the building hasn’t aged.
From a small, inadequate elevator, to the aging electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems, to leaky pipes, the building “still looks a lot like it’s 1902,” said Barrie Rassi, president of the library board.
“Oh my goodness, it’s bad. This is a place that people just want to check out books. It’s not a place where people want to stay.”
To create a more welcoming environment, board members commissioned a feasibility study on ways to renovate and expand the library.
Anderson-based krM Architecture, who conducted the study, came back with six recommendations: Remodel all three library floors with a bathroom on each floor and an Americans with Disability Act fully accessible elevator connecting all the floors; move the meeting room and children’s services from the second floor to the first floor; relocate adult services, the teen room and a small meeting room to the second floor; renovate the library’s basement to house staff offices; reinforce the building’s wood structure with steel; and find a temporary location during the renovation.
The renovations would not increase the building’s square footage, but would instead help better utilize the available space, said Charles A. Wagner, the library’s director.
No timeline has been established for the renovations, however, the estimated cost of the project is $3.01 million, he said.
With such a high price tag and an empty library coffer, Wagner said the library needs assistance to raise the money.
As a result, Wagner and library supporters have approached the Peru City Council to request matching funds as part of an Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant they are applying for to renovate the building.
“Libraries are a reflection of the community and communities like to brag on their nice library facilities. Libraries are community centers,” said Wagner, who has been with the library for almost four decades.
“We are not asking taxpayers to fund this. But we can’t apply for the ORCA grant until we get the city’s support.”
But, it’s not just the city’s support the library board is seeking.
With a $533,118 operating budget, Wagner said the city finances the bulk of the library’s expenditures. However, Miami County residents — minus Peru citizens — use 55 percent of the library’s services compared to 45 percent from Peru citizens.
“But we can’t get the county officials involved until we get the city,” said Wagner. “The structure is drastically in need of updating. The board has worked very hard to secure funding through grants. A planning grant was obtained, and hopefully in 2012, an ORCA grant will put the library on the path of being restored to the gem on Main Street.”
Peru Mayor Jim Walker understands the building “needs a lot of renovations and a lot of systems upgraded. They want us to apply for a bond for them, but we need to know how they are going to pay it off and if they can afford it. I am pretty sure it will be an interesting discussion.”
Yet, if the mayor or anyone else wants to discuss the library’s current conditions, actions speak louder than words for Terri Hall.
The office of the library’s program director is in a cramped section in the basement. She has to run a dehumidifier to keep mold from growing in the damp space.
In addition, due to inadequate wiring, when she wants to use the microwave to heat her lunch, Hall has to shut off the dehumidifier so “I don’t blow a fuse down here.”
“It can get really noisy down here at times,” she said. “And in the winter, when I bring my lunch so I don’t have to go out in the cold, I turn off the dehumidifier but that messes with my allergies. Working down here, you learn about things very quickly.”
Rassi not only wants the library to be renovated, but he also has plans to expand the library’s offerings.
The library in Cass County — a neighboring county of similar population — has almost 200,000 books available compared to Peru’s 41,715, Rassi said.
In addition, Wagner said within the past 38 years, the library’s usage has increased more than 400 percent.
This summer, Cathy Pembaur came to the library often for its books and children’s programming for her two children.
The 109-year-old building has charm, she said, but “things can always be better.”
“Like everything else, it’s going to take money and no one has much of that,” she said. “I like coming here and I like the feel of the place, but when you go to other libraries, you see how far behind we are. It’s time for us to play catch up with other libraries. I just don’t know where they are going to find the money.”