It’s not new, but it sure looks like a whole new building.
Geoff Russell, who attended Sunday’s grand reopening of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library Main Branch downtown, summed up the yearlong renovation project in a word.
“This was worth the wait,” he said as he surveyed the etched glass panels on the ground floor. “I didn’t know I was in the same library as before. This is magnificent.
“This is nothing like the old one. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but this is really breath-taking. It’s like something you would expect in a much larger city,” Russell said.
The library was packed Sunday with similar comments being made by partygoers.
Library volunteers stayed busy guiding guests on a tour of the completely renovated, three-level building, said Susan Luttrell, library board president.
Located in a building constructed in the 1960s, she said talks of needing a new Main Library began in the late 1990s. In 2002, talks increased, but the economy and other factors ruled out new construction.
As a result, the plan changed to renovating the current structure.
Using $4.2 million of taxpayer money, which Luttrell said was “saved over many years,” the library renovation has allowed for a better use of public space.
“It was cramped workspace for our workers, and it was cramped for our patrons,” said Luttrell, adding there are still plans to construct a garage area for the library’s Bookmobiles so volunteers can be protected from the elements when preparing for a run.
“We were able to do this and complete it with no debt,” she said. “We came in under budget with this project.”
The renovated library includes a new Victorian look for the Genealogy and Local History Department; a computer lab with 41 computers; more than 90,000 books in the adult collection; no fees for A-V materials; and a teen department Luttrell said was designed after consulting area teens.
Nevertheless, like Russell, it’s the library’s etched glass project that Luttrell finds most appealing.
Designed by library graphic artist Tony Budenz and etched by local artist Jon Russell, 15 etched glass panels — each 4-by-10 — detail why Kokomo is known as the “City of Firsts.”
From the first canned tomato juice in 1928 to the first signal-seeking car radio in 1947, the panels highlight the area’s history of firsts and inventions.
In total, Luttrell said there are 18 panels. Three will be used for sponsors and for additional invention information.
“All of these are unique to the Howard County community. The panels are a tie between the city and county and it was important this was added,” explained Luttrell, adding the Howard County Community Foundation funded the project.
“These [panels] are uniquely Kokomo and Howard County,” she said. “We are not only the library, but we are the community’s cultural center. That’s exactly what we want our library to be. That’s exactly what it is.”