Photo (from left): Carrie Magorian, Library Board member; John E Koller, Mayor; Patrick Magorian, Treasurer of Library Board; Jennifer Einspahr, Library Director; Jill Snyder, library staff; Ella Wilson, granddaughter of Jill Snyder; Jeanne Paulsen, Library Foundation member; Benita Adams (holding ribbon), Library Board President; Shari Mues, library staff member.
After three years of hard work, planning and fundraising — on top of a global pandemic — Arapahoe’s newly-renovated public library opened once-and-for-all last Saturday, to a joyous ribbon-cutting celebration and the glorious smells of paperbacks and fresh plaster.
“When you think about it, a library is a part of the community fabric, especially in a small town like Arapahoe,” said library director Jennifer Einspahr. “This project has been years in the making, and is something our town really needed and deserved. Today is the culmination of a lot of people coming together in a show of support to make this project happen.”
With finishing touches added last month, the new renovation features 1,200 square feet of major enhancements and a 1,700 square foot addition to the existing structure, which began its life as a church in 1959 before being converted to a library in the 1980’s.
“Other than replacing the roof and a few minor changes to the interior, the building really hadn’t seen updates over the past 40 years,” Einspahr said, highlighting electrical upgrades, ADA accessibility issues and general deterioration as just a few of the items the Arapahoe Public Library Foundation had listed on the agenda.
To get the ball rolling, Arapahoe sought a grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, under the Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF) Project Planning category. CCCFF grants are designed to help communities like Arapahoe tackle projects that enhance their quality of life.
In this case, CCCFF Planning funds enabled project leaders to hire an architect for an official design blueprint and to come up with that all-important price tag.
“In the beginning we had a wish list, a dream and a vision, but nothing on paper. Once we had a concrete plan, we could then take our vision to the community and say, ‘Hey, we know we can accomplish this with your help.’”
With a plan in hand and the community’s blessing, the Foundation launched a capital campaign in 2018, orchestrating fundraisers like an annual Gala dinner and silent auction, which drew confidence-inspiring crowds and substantial donations. They also secured the help of organizations like the Ethel S. Abbott Charitable Foundation, the Kreutz Bennett Donor-Advised Fund, Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Arapahoe Area Foundation and an anonymous donor.
That outpouring of support, Einspahr said, was what strengthened Arapahoe’s second application to the CCCFF program, this time for capital construction funding. The subsequent successful result is what truly enabled the library project to enter the realm of non-fiction.
“That second CCCFF award was the difference-maker,” Einspahr said of the City’s $372,172 grant from DED. “The day we learned our application was successful, we knew it was really go-time.”
The rest, they say, is history, and today, the new-and-improved public library is fresh, functional and more user-friendly than ever.
Pull up, for example, and you’ll notice the new drive-through service lane, which gives patrons the option to drop off or even check out materials without leaving the safety of their vehicle. You’ll also find improved accessible parking, with a wheelchair ramp leading all the way to the front entrance, now push-button equipped.
Speaking of entrances, the entryway/exits are wider and more prominent than before. And once inside, the entire flow of the library has changed: clearly-defined children’s and adults areas put more distance between Clifford the Big Red Dog and War and Peace; the relocated circulation desk is more convenient and spacious; fresh, bright coats of paint complement cushier, comfier furniture; guests will appreciate the new bathrooms, now larger and wheelchair accessible. Even the WiFi has been improved.
The icing on the cake is the new Community Room — a space custom-tailored for community gatherings, ideal for afterschool Mad Science Mondays and Lego Club, but also available to the public-at-large for meetings and private events.
“Every time someone walks in they are blown away by just how much the space has been transformed,” Einspahr said. “It’s like a brand new library. We’re so excited for what this means to the community, who will have this building that is so much more functional for their use.”
Though construction has been complete for a month, today’s ribbon-cutting marked a grand opening that gave everyone involved — from local officials, to project leaders, to everyday citizens who’ve shown their support since page one of this success story — a chance to come together in celebration and appreciation for what is ultimately a gift to the community. A new chapter, and part of its binding.
“We are so thrilled and happy,” said Einspahr. “It was several years in the making, but we were able to make this wish come true. Now it will be here to serve future generations for a long time to come.”