After six years, new Volga library nears completion

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After numerous delays, construction began on the new Volga City Library in April. Work will be substantially completed next month. (Submitted photos)

Library director Karla Duff said the new library will create a destination space in Volga for everyone.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Over six years ago, a group of Volga residents arrived at the conclusion that something had to be done about the state of the library, which was small, outdated and unable to meet the rising demands and programming needs of the community, while also being inaccessible for persons with disabilities.


“There has long been the need for a larger library. Many of the library’s programs must be moved to a different location to accommodate the numbers of adults and youth who want to participate. There is no room for a comfortable place to sit and read or hold a group book discussion. Space for books and computers is severely limited and the space is even more limited for people,” said Volga City council member and a member of the library planning committee, Elaine Follon.


In the wake of this decision and amid an outpouring of public support, the project immediately raised $25,000 toward what quickly climbed to over $300,000 in the intervening years, during which the project went through fits and starts and a change in scale and scope. 


Initially, the planning committee wanted to build a new location, an endeavor that delayed the project by two years as they worked to get control of the property. Then, by chance, another option became available, when the building previously occupied by a lumber company closed.


This put the planning committee into what Follon called a “quandary.”


“When word got out that the lumber company was closing, our planning committee received one call after another asking us to reconsider a new library building versus restoring the now empty hardware/lumber company building,” Follon recalled.


At the heart of the quandary was the fact “a lot of work had been done,” Follon stated. An architect had already created a “beautiful design” for the new building, but the committee reached out to the public. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of restoring the vacant building rather than building a new one. 


The saga of the new library entered 2020 with Follon noting several advantages in renovating an old building. Primarily, this building would have “considerably more space,” almost four times more than the current library.


Follon added the new space would create room for the city to have an office for the clerk and meeting room for the city council. There would be a warehouse for a much-needed city shop and, to top it all off, the cost to renovate would be considerably less than constructing a new building.


However, this decision was not without its own complications, chief among them that the building location resides in a floodplain, requiring the committee to work within DNR guidelines, slowing the pace of progress. Over the last year, work finally got underway, with some electrical work, several smaller projects, installation of new light fixtures and flooring and renovation of the bathroom.


What remains are some small ticket items, such as redoing and bricking the façade of the city portion of the building, but that is on hold until more funding can be secured. There are also a few pieces of furniture needed, as well as items to meet specific needs like STEM programming for youth. 


Follon noted, “That will have to come later,” as the committee continues to write grants and fundraise.


“Keep in mind that we’re moving into a space which is four times bigger than our current library.  Karla Duff, our library director, has done an amazing job procuring furnishings from other libraries that are making changes, and Mayor Carrie Taylor has also done great work in procuring furnishings from college offices that were closing operations.  She was able to get relatively new furniture and equipment for pennies on the dollar,” Follon said.


When it comes to funding the project, the total currently stands at $307,395, the bulk of which came from grants, including the Carver Foundation, Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, McElroy Trust, American Library Association and Viafield Foundation. Follon said  the planning committee is “very grateful for their generosity.”


Additional funding was received through the library’s donation from the Ainsworth Fund, which accounted for eight percent of the total funds. Fundraisers have brought in 14 percent of the total to date, and individual giving has accounted for 24 percent. According to Follon, if you include library fundraisers, which rely on individual donations, the total for individual giving is 38 percent. 


This is indicative of a project that relied on a community and its perseverance to continue work that, without delays, could’ve been completed within three years, instead of extending beyond six.


Once completed in late August, the Volga City Public Library, which is 100 years old and stands as the first public library established in Clayton County, will continue to represent one of the “most important institutions” in Volga, according to Follon. It will continue to grow the small town’s importance and fill numerous community needs.


Needs like providing an accessible space and the “ability to access resources in a safe and welcoming spot,” which, according to Duff, hasn’t always been the case. Unlike the old library, the new one “has been designed for all to use,” Duff said. That includes new push-button doors, an accessible bathroom and wide-open collection areas, allowing patrons the ability to “access all of the resources available.” 


Updated technology areas allow for independent or small-group use and a dedicated computer space for adults has been added to provide opportunities for learning and research.


“Being mindful of all patrons has created an environment where all can create, play, read and discover. We are a library for everyone,” Duff said.


Another key outcome is the addition of programming space that will enhance what the library can offer. Now, Duff will have space to plan and implement youth activities, hold public gatherings for book clubs and other groups, bring in different organizations and speakers to give presentations and partner with community organizations, while also offering shared fitness and wellness opportunities for all ages.


Finally, the new library, in Duff’s view, will create a destination space in Volga for everyone. It will become a destination for students who can safely gather in small groups to study, learn and connect with others, while adults can sit with a cup of coffee in comfy chairs that overlook Washington Street and converse with friends.


“The vision is to be much more than books, but becoming a library of everything through increased opportunities for all,” Duff said.


The end result is a library that fulfills the mission statement that “all are welcome,” a sentiment that has guided the current library, as well as its future. 


The new library is not just the work and ideas of the planning committee, but involved the entire community of Volga, who was surveyed throughout the previous six-plus years. It’s an example of what Duff insisted was “Volga City and residents taking an active role in improving life in Volga.”


Though Follon admitted there were doubts along the way about whether the project would ever be finished, strong community support and small town resolve saw it through to the end, What Volga has is a state-of-the-art library where Duff said its “past, present and future are represented.”

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