A formerly vacant building is now a source of pride for the residents of Walthill, Nebraska (population 739).
With help from the CDBG and CCCFF programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local donors, the Walthill Fire Department relocated in 2014 from its tired, 70-year-old fire hall into a brand new facility. Though you might think the Old Fire Hall would subsequently be happy to retire, today it is starting life anew as a place that the whole community can use and enjoy.
Not too far from the Old Fire Hall, the Walthill Public Library was showing signs of its age. Water leaked in whenever it rained. The electrical system was out of date. The facility was small and crowded. Improvements for ADA accessibility over the years had been few and far between. And if that weren’t enough, being located next door to a bar, and the problems that came along with it, didn’t help either.
Town leaders sensed it was time for a change. In a small community like Walthill— an Omaha Indian Reservation community where two-thirds of the population is low and moderate income—a public library isn’t just a home for books. It’s a public gathering place. An afterschool program. A point of internet access. Leaders knew that any investment in a new library would also be an investment in the community. And down the road, the Old Fire Hall stood, waiting.
Before long, the Village of Walthill, in partnership with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, procured the necessary funding to repurpose the fire hall into a new library that would better serve the community’s needs. Funding arrived in the form of a $250,000 CDBG program grant, with additional assistance from the CCCFF program, the USDA Rural Development program, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, and other contributors.
Within months, renovations were underway, and the once-tired fire hall was given new windows and glass doors; new siding, paint, gutters, and downspouts; updated heating, electrical, and air systems; improvements for ADA accessibility; new drywall, interior paint, carpet, and tile. By March of 2017, the ribbon cutting ceremony was underway.
The new facility is clean. It’s warm, bright, and spacious. It has a kitchen for catering community events. A teen area complete with couches and chairs. There is more room for afterschool programs. The computer area even has some of the town’s most reliable internet access.
The new library is everything, says library director Lola Briggs, that Walthill needed it to be, and more. But it’s not just the amenities that make it so impactful, she says. It’s the new sense of hope, pride, and optimism it has restored to a community that’s faced its fair share of struggles over the years.
“It’s been uplifting because of the problems we’ve had,” Briggs said. “The town has really suffered. It needed an uplift. So it’s not just a library. It’s a community building that hopefully is homey and welcoming. Such a welcoming community building was something we needed.”