Brown County approves purchase of land for new library
By Lea Kopke
GREEN BAY – A new Brown County Library East Branch facility is one step closer to reality after the county board approved the purchase of property next to its current location last month.
For Kathy Blaney, a library patron of many years, this has been a long-awaited project.
Blaney is a member of a book club of about 20 women.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club met monthly at the East Branch Library located at 2255 Main St.
She said one meeting room was always filled to the brim when her club met.
Blaney said she and the other members felt there was not enough space for larger groups.
They saw other issues around the library, like stained ceilings, inadequate bathrooms – the library has one stall for all of its patrons – and no handicap access ramp.
She said she saw the need for improvement, so she asked members of the club to sign a letter she wrote to the Brown County Library Board president and members which formally stated the women hoped movement could be made toward the purchase of a new building.
“It’s been in the works for a decade or more,” Blaney said. “And finally we did get calls back saying that their capital fund, or their monies, are now available. But then COVID hit.”
The project was put on pause during the pandemic, until she and other members of the club went to a Brown County Library Board meeting last May.
“I presented all of the pictures I took of the library and its poor conditions,” Blaney said. “It’s in terrible condition, and compared to other library branches it was drastically needed for a change to be made.”
She said two other club members spoke to the board.
Deb Zich told the board about the inadequacies of the conference room, the lack of a welcoming atmosphere and a need for better internet service.
Jill Proulx spoke about safety issues in the parking lot, namely how the building’s landlord failed to clear snow in a timely manner.
Blaney said the presentation was well-received, and the project resumed shortly thereafter.
The county board voted at its July meeting to adopt the Education and Recreation Committee’s resolution to approve the purchase of the building adjacent to the current East Branch location.
Sarah Sugden, Brown County Library executive director, said the county board’s approval was one of the library’s contingencies for purchasing the property.
Sugden said after the contingency process is finished, the library can move forward with its design process by developing programs and gathering community input, before beginning construction and opening at some point in 2023.
While building specifics have not been determined, she said there are several features Brown County Library plans to add.
“The main aspect of this project is really creating a more accessible, usable library so that folks of all abilities are able to navigate the library spaces and really feel like it’s their library,” Sugden said. “It’s your library. We want people to come in and be like, ‘Oh, this library was made for me.’”
She said the library sees a lot of people every day, so the library board knows it’s an important spot to help people stay cool in the summer and act as a warm communal space in the winter.
Sugden said the facility will feature more efficient and modernized infrastructure, an outdoor space, art exhibits, study rooms and larger meeting spaces.
She also said the library will focus on expanding its technological offerings, which she said is partially based on the digital divide in the community that was made more apparent during the pandemic.
“It was so touching and powerful when an individual came into the library because the courthouse had closed for in-person hearings, and so he turned to the library for his virtual court hearing,” Sugden said. “That was a recent example that made me understand anew how that digital divide really determines courses for people.”
She said the project will be funded through the county’s sales tax initiative and a private partnership.
Sugden said she was thankful for Blaney’s fierce advocacy toward the new building.
“A couple of years ago, when Kathy and I first chatted, she told me that her one wish before she dies is a new east branch,” she said. “And I said to her, ‘Kathy, we’re going to get that done.’”
Blaney said the new branch is encouraging because in the future she knows there will be a brighter, more welcoming space equipped to serve as many people who love books as possible.
“That’s what we’re all hoping for,” she said. “So it gives us hope that in the future it’s going to be so much nicer than it is, and it’s going to be able to be what a library should be.”