Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sometimes the process works!

In 2000 the voters of Jackson County, Oregon approved a $38.9 million dollar bond to fund the construction and renovation of its 14 branch libraries, a process that resulted in the construction of an entirely new library in Medford.  When the library moved out of its 1911 Carnegie Library, located in Library Park, the building reverted to the City who didn’t know what to do with it.  After a certain amount of hand-wringing that included serious consideration of selling the building for private development, a new Mayor, Gary Wheeler, took office and took the bull by the horns.  Mayor Wheeler established a library committee of concerned citizens and chaired it himself.  The NTHP, the Kinsman Foundation, and Medford’s Urban Renewal District all provided funding to help and a new plan was hatched: to transform the building into a multi-use community center while respecting and honoring its history.

About a year ago, after some work on the library had occurred when it was used as a temporary home for City offices during a city hall remodel, Medford received significant Federal stimulus funding to improve energy efficiency at the Carnegie, a process that resulted in all new HVAC and, as I have written before, all new windows.  While there were parts of that program that could have been handled differently, the funding source triggered Section 106 and required the City to not only replace the windows as consistently with their original character as possible but to mitigate the Adverse Effect caused by their removal. Working with Oregon SHPO to develop appropriate mitigation, the City elected to restore the front entry, replacing the bad aluminum doors with custom Fir doors modeled after the historic design, restoring the twin cast iron lampposts, and cleaning the brick, all to provide the public with a hint of what a restored Carnegie would look like.
And then, as so often happens once preservation effort starts, the City got inspired.  They found some funding to clean up the interior, including new commercial carpeting, new paint, repaired lighting, and other work that makes the Carnegie presentable and more importantly useable for meetings, weddings, community events and other functions.  Rental fees will help build toward a full restoration of the building as the Carnegie Library Committee planned but more importantly, even if not complete, the City’s vision returns the Carnegie to activity and utility in Medford after eight long vacant years.

Last night Mayor Wheeler and the members of the Carnegie Committee, along with the City’s Parks staff, Council, the local AIA (which donated time to help plan the project), former Mayors, and other dignitaries and supporters all joined together for a grand celebration to re-open the Carnegie.  A banner was hung, cookies and punch were served, photos and newspapers articles about the Carnegie’s history lined the newly painted walls, the author of the City's newly published Images of America history book signed copies and we all sat in the Carnegie Library and enjoyed the premiere of a video made to honor Medford’s 125th Birthday as an incorporated city.  Well Done!

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