Gering Public Library Foundation members told the Gering City Council Monday that they will continue the push for a remodel or new location for the library, which was sidelined in 2020 by the pandemic.
The foundation’s chairman Charles Lieske said the group is completing a website, set to go online within the next few months to receive feedback on community ideas for the space.
“Gering really needs more than a building that serves as a book depository,” he said. “We need an accessible community center.”
For years, members of the library board and others have argued that the current library is too small for the community events and is inaccessible. Library Director Diane Downer told the Star-Herald in January 2020 the wheelchair lift connecting the upper floor to the basement hasn’t been consistently operational since 2018. The lift has not been fixed, and was brought up again Monday as a goal for the upcoming year.
The Gering Public Library Foundation is separate from the Friends of the Library, the nonprofit which helps with an annual book sale and is more hands-on with programming, Downer said Monday.
Lieske said he understands that the council has to balance limited public funds for public needs, adding that they’ve taken cost-cutting measures into consideration.
“Based on our perception of the council’s desire for expanding the current site, we continue to explore that option even though it poses numerous complications, even architectural limitations,” Lieske said.
One of those complications is the requirement for the Gering Police department to use the alley between the library and city hall.
He said the foundation started two years ago to explore a new location and has morphed to push for programming beyond the building.
“We had really good momentum through 2019. And then when COVID hit, chaos ensued for many people,” Lieske said.
He said the board will continue seeking fundraising and community support through the website.
Tracy Henderson, who chairs the library board, told council members the library was able to operate despite the pandemic. She said the library currently has 30,179 books; 2,998 videos and audio materials. There are 48,488 software programs and other materials.
Council member Susan Wiedeman thanked library staff for helping pick out large-print books for her 92-year old mother, and delivering them curbside during the pandemic.
“It’s nice to know that even though (some people) cannot be physically in the library at times, like your mother, that the library is still able to reach out into the community and provide things for our citizens that really enhance quality of life,” Henderson said.
During Monday’s meeting, the city approved a $55,000 grant and a $105,000 loan from LB840 funds for Hotel 21. The hotel is south of the Weborg 21 Centre, and is anticipated to open in the next month.
The council unanimously approved two agreements using $100,000 in state funds to construct a rail spur at the city’s industrial park. One agreement is between the state and the city, the other between the city and Crossroads Cooperative, which is building its new site at the industrial park.
City Engineer Annie Folck said the agreements are part of the state’s Economic Opportunity Program which requires the city to apply and use the money to benefit a business. She said the state requires the project to be bid out, and all standards for spending public met.
“The $100,000 will be a pass through to the project, any additional expenses will be the responsibility of Crossroads,” Folck said. “They will oversee day-to-day construction with the city, of course, ensuring that everything meets all of our typical civic responsibilities.”
According to the agenda, the city is required to oversee the project and document it for at least five years, but Crossroads Cooperative will be responsible for obtaining design and approvals from Union Pacific Railroad and manage the construction, subject to the city’s authority.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the Gering City Council unanimously accepted council member Parrish Abel’s resignation with little fanfare and no discussion. Abel was not present.
Mayor Tony Kaufman said the city would publish an announcement calling for letters of intent to replace the Ward IV council member. The mayor and all the city council members will hold interviews of prospective candidates at an upcoming special meeting.
“The special meeting will be held on a date to be determined in early March 2021,” Kaufman said.