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Public Outreach and Transparency Earn Approval for LaPorte County Public Library Renovations

LaPorte County Library has embarked on a multi-year program to improve each of the seven libraries in its county-wide system. The library received approvals for $12 million in funding in early 2015, but the groundwork started long before.

In 2012 the library began a strategic planning process by listening to library users through community meetings and user surveys regarding how well the library system was meeting patrons’ needs. Library staff attended community meetings by other organizations as well.

“We came to this after some tough times,” said Fonda Owens, LaPorte County Public Library executive director. The ideas for facility renovations started small, but the list grew as more library users shared their ideas.

“They told us ‘we want spaces to sit quietly and places to work in groups. We want be able to plug in devices without sitting on the floor; we need more electrical outlets,’” said Owens. Additional studies identified deficiencies with lighting and accessibility.

As the plan took shape, Umbaugh developed financial projections to show the tax impact for various budget levels, plus how the tax increase would affect property tax caps.

Fulfilling a commitment to be open and transparent, the library shared information with the public, the library board and staff: “We posted our community meeting reports on our website, along with committee meeting minutes, the architect’s work, statistical and financial reports and our annual report,” said Owens.

Was the time devoted to outreach and transparency worth it? “Yes. It made a huge difference,” said Owens.

A public hearing in early 2015 could have triggered a public remonstrance about the project, but no remonstrance materialized.

The library kept the County Council informed throughout the process, including providing a binder with information from the user surveys and public meetings, reports from the architects and attorneys, and the Umbaugh report on financing and tax rates.

“We presented the binder to the Council during the public comment portion of the February meeting and asked to be on the agenda the following month. We came back in March, with board members, library supporters, our attorney and Belvia Gray from Umbaugh. The library supporters packed the room.”

The County Council approved the projects!

Owens concludes: “Our mission statement says our libraries are the center of community life. We will be that place where people can come together in accessible, comfortable spaces for early childhood literacy, tutoring and life-long learning. I am so happy for the community.”