ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent District Library is working with four communities to expand the Krause Memorial Branch Library in Rockford, though it’s still working out a plan for exactly what that will look like, while at the same time lowering the millage to run the branch.

The city of Rockford and the Algoma, Cannon and Courtland townships and KDL are in the process of laying out a plan to address the space constraints of the library on the corner of S. Monroe Street NE and E. Bridge Street NE.

“This branch is our most heavily used branch per square foot. It’s heavily used by the community,” KDL Executive Director Lance Werner said.

Werner says in the summer, the branch runs out of space for kids programming and is “forced to split up the kids — half of them are in the room with the performer and half of them are in the other room trying to look through the doorway.”

SMALLER MILLAGE IN 2024

The building in downtown Rockford has been home to the community library since 1937. It was first expanded in 1963 and most recently in 1989. Today, the Krause Memorial Library’s traffic has outgrown the space, managers say.

Over the past few years, the four communities and KDL worked to figure out how to best fit the Krause Memorial Library to the growing community.

“In the 2017 study by the Kent District Library, we were by far the most populous, widely used based on size versus population,” Thad Beard, city manager of Rockford, said. “So we have done an analysis. Early figures suggest that we need to increase the size, ideally, by up to 30,000 square feet, which is not realistic in the downtown. So we’re looking to increase it by double the size what it is now, so it would be in excess of 20,000 square feet.”

“That analysis led to kind of the option to potentially giving voters the opportunity to either stay in KDL or leave because there was at least some indication that that might have been cost effective (than expanding),” Steve Grimm, Cannon Township supervisor, said, explaining that KDL runs the operations in buildings that are owned by other entities.

Since KDL wasn’t a fan of the Rockford branch breaking off, a meeting was held in December to discuss the options with taxpayers.

Ultimately, it was decided that the branch needed a way to be more cost effective while staying within the KDL system, Grimm said. The library did some calculations and found that it could get by with a smaller millage after the current one expires in 2023.

“As time has gone on, taxable values have come up, Kent County is growing and we’ve become much more efficient… so what we’ve figured out when we did the calculations is that we could levy 1.1 mills in 2024 rather than 1.28, which is a reduction of .18 mills. And we can still provide the same high quality service that people have come to love,” Werner said.

FUNDRAISER TO PAY FOR LARGER SPACE

To facilitate the physical expansion, the library and communities plan to raise funds outside of the millage with an end goal that hasn’t been determined yet. KDL said that architecture and engineering firm Progressive AE will analyze the current facility to evaluate space and program needs as well as estimate the cost of a new library.

“The estimated cost based on our study two years ago was about $8 million… It was done fairly quickly with less comprehensive analysis than what’s being done now. The final scope of work being completed by Progressive AE is an estimated probable cost,” Beard said. “We’re using that $8 million figure as a reference point, knowing that it will change up or down, we just don’t know which way.”

Once the probable cost has been determined, the communities will be working together with KDL to raise the money. KDL has agreed to contribute $35,000, Grimm said.

“Hopefully we won’t have to put it on the ballot to ask for a millage to pay for it,” Grimm said, adding that the KDL operational millage will be on the ballot regardless. “We’re optimistic that by having a very needs-based expansion … that we can raise all the funds through private donations.”

While there is no current way to donate funds in place, Grimm says that residents should contact their township supervisor or the Rockford City Manager’s Office to add their name to a list to be contacted when donations are being collected.

Specific plans for the expansion have not been determined. Beard says that in 2018, the building next door to the library was bought to allow for an expansion there instead of moving to a different property.

Residents in all four communities will be able to share their input during pubic engagement sessions, KDL says.

“I think that when we expand the space, obviously we can plan on having a bigger programming room and presumably more study rooms and just some more elbow room,” Werner said.