BELLEVILLE — About $344,000 in renovations to the inside of the Belleville Public Library main branch will start this winter, pending City Council approval.
Library Director Leander Spearman said the library plans to stay open for as much of the work as possible.
The changes will include a new main entrance and carpet, and more colorful, durable paint for the walls.
The circulation desk on the first floor will be moved from the entrance to the center of the room so library employees can see the entire floor, Spearman said. The same will be done on the second floor.
A computer lab will be established in a meeting room on the second floor. The computers are currently located in the middle of the room, which is not an ideal space for classes or for more computers.
"This way we can train people to use resources where the resources are actually located," Spearman said.
The library building at 121 E. Washington St. in downtown Belleville was built in 1916 and got a $1 million facelift in 1998.
Spearman said the building's historic marble staircase will be kept in place. But Spearman said the library's current configuration has outgrown its usefulness and it's time for improvements to the interior and exterior of the building.
Spearman said an application for a state grant fell through because the state could not sell enough bonds to fund all projects.
So for now, the library will forego work on the building's brick exterior, which could cost more than $3 million, and concentrate on the interior, Spearman said.
Anyone interested in donating to library renovations should call Spearman at 234-0441.
During a recent Finance Committee meeting, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said he has a problem with using city tax increment financing money for the project.
"It's TIF 3 that is subsidizing this for the entire city," Hayden said.
Hayden said there are sidewalks located in TIF No. 3 that are crumbling and the money should be spent on that instead. He suggested the library increase its tax levy to pay for the renovation.
"If the library is short on funds, we should go to taxpayers and say we're not raising enough," Hayden said.
Finance Director Jamie Maitret said $216,000 of the project will be paid out of Belleville TIF No. 3.
The rest of the project, about $128,000, will be paid for from private donations, Spearman said.
Spearman also pointed out that the city owns the building that houses the library.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Dorothy Meyer said she agreed with Spearman. "It is our building and we do have to take care of it."
Finance Committee members voted to forward the project with EWR Associates for approval to the City Council meeting on Monday. During the committee meeting, Hayden voted no; Ward 4 Alderman Tim Carpenter said "present."
Spearman later said the end result would be the same: Taxpayers would foot the bill whether TIF money is used or the library increases taxes to pay for the project.
TIF, or tax increment financing, is an economic development tool local governments use to improve infrastructure or spur development in sluggish parts of town.
A TIF district captures increases in property tax revenues without changing the tax rate and uses the additional taxes to pay for infrastructure or other redevelopment costs within the city.
William Lesko said he lives in unincorporated Belleville and frequents the library once or twice a week.
"I think everything should be updated periodically and the library is a major attribute of the city of Belleville," Lesko said.
But Lesko also said he doesn't think TIF money should be used on the library because he believes TIF money should be used in "blighted" areas. He's glad to hear part of the project will be paid for with private donations.
Belleville resident Marilyn Young said she approves of tax dollars spent on library renovations. She goes to the library every three weeks.
"You have to keep things updated," Young said. "You always want it to look nice."
Belleville Library Director Leander Spearman marks his first year on the job this month. Here's a look at what he has done to attract new patrons and update the library:
* Took VHS and cassette tapes out of circulation and invested in other digital materials, such as video games and downloadable books.
* Started a monthly book club for patrons 18 and older. The group meets for the second time at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 to discuss "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. Call 234-0441 to register.
* Launched a fundraising effort for a project to digitize Belleville News-Democrat microfilm editions from the 1840s to 2000 into an online searchable database.
* Started the library's new Facebook and Twitter pages.
* Provided color copies and outbound faxes through a vendor.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville. director's accomplishments