MEDFORD — After seven years of meetings and recommendations from two community groups and a consulting agency, the 96-year-old Carnegie Library has found its new purpose: community gathering and public use, and possibly city offices.
Mayor Gary Wheeler, chairman of the Carnegie Work Group, said he's committed to fixing up the historic downtown building and reopening it to the public as soon as possible.
The 1912 Carnegie Library building became vacant when the Medford library branch moved to its new location in April 2004. Numerous public meetings have been held about the Carnegie's fate, beginning with council meetings and a survey in 2001. The council established a Carnegie Building Committee in 2002, which recommended the building become a community and cultural center, available to the public. Since then a multitude of proposals have come forward, including a mystery benefactor offering $1.5 million for renovations in exchange for use, the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County offering to purchase it, the Southern Oregon Historical Society offering to lease it and the city taking it over as city office space. The Arts Council of Southern Oregon, the Multicultural Association, Centro Hispano and the League of Women Voters also expressed interest in using some of the space as did others.
In 2005 the city hired a local architectural firm which conducted a survey and came up with five proposals including a culinary school, a meeting center, an cultural art center with classrooms, a community center with classrooms and a bookstore with a cafe.
In Jan. 2007 the council appointed the Carnegie Work Group consisting of Mary Jane Dellenback, John Hamlin, Vicki Ann Bryden, Ann Horton, Craig Stone, Eric Iversen, Councilmen Al Densmore and Ben Truwe and Mayor Gary Wheeler as chairman.
"I promised our high school graduating class of 1962 that we could have our 50-year class reunion there," he quipped, adding that plans are actually to have it open by January 2010.
The Carnegie Work Group is hosting an open house for the public in the former library building Wednesday. The meeting is an opportunity for community members to share ideas, suggestions and conversation with the committee surrounding the plan. The group also will be launching a fundraising campaign for the project.
Wheeler said the group decided to keep the building's uses broad and flexible. Small conferences, seminars, small music venues and rotating art exhibits are among the events he envisions.
The space could also be used for council or commission meetings, though he wants to ensure the city is careful about that and doesn't tie up the space.
"There has to be some flexibility for a group to come in," he said.
George Kramer, local historic preservation consultant and chairman of the Oregon Heritage Commission, is restoration consultant for the project. He said renovation plans include moving the elevator and restoring the original grand entrance. The upstairs will be elegantly renovated, he said.
"It's going to be a living room for downtown," said Kramer.
Community members can rent the upstairs space for a variety of events.
"The building needs to pay for itself," he said. "It has to generate enough income to keep itself going."
The Parks and Recreation Department, which is responsible for the building's maintenance, may keep a presence in the building.
"We're pretty sure that a good chunk of the lower floor will be office space," said Kramer.
Ben Truwe, Medford councilman and committee member, said the City Hall building is putting in a new heating and air-conditioning system, which will require portions of the office space to be vacated at times. The city will contribute to fixing up the Carnegie Library's first floor so staff can use the space temporarily while the new heat system is being installed, he said.
The details of the renovation costs and timeline haven't been worked out yet, he said.
"Everything's up in the air," said Truwe. He said the work group is under the authority of the council, which seems on board with the plan.
The Southern Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architects has agreed to donate consulting and design services. The work group has also received grants for design consultation from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and the National Trust for Historic Preservation and just learned this week it will receive a $5,000 grant.
"We've been able to fund ourselves as we go here," said Wheeler.
Preliminary renovation costs once ranged from $1.5 million to $3 million, but Kramer said their recent estimate puts the price tag closer to $500,000, though the numbers have not been tallied. The building's in good shape and very little seismic retrofit work needs to be done, he said.
Mayor Wheeler said the building, after all, was designed to bear the weight of all those books.
"It's a nice little building, it really is in nice condition after all," he said.
Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail email@example.com.