By Audrey Alfson
Special for the Argus
Over 120 people gathered at the Houston Community Center Sunday afternoon to celebrate the Houston Public Library, and for good reason.
This year marks the library’s 10th anniversary, an occasion highlighted by the completion of a long-planned renovation and its appearance in the cover of the book “Libraries of Minnesota.”
The event began at 3 p.m. with a slideshow presentation by Doug Ohman, the photographer who captured the libraries portrayed in the book, and whose stories gave personality to the many libraries and communities across the state who were also featured.
Following the presentation, Houston Library Director Liz Gibson-Gassett recognized all those who contributed to the renovation efforts, especially the work of Lynn Carr, Mrs. Kim Ross, Jean Collette and Barb Swenson, who were among the founding members of the library initiative over ten years ago and whose dedication have helped to make the library what it is today.
Following the accolades and cake, most folks walked over to the library for the official ribbon cutting ceremony and to take a first look at their library–transformed.
The current site of the library was originally a grocery store, when the building was new. Later Ace Communications used the building as their headquarters. In 2002, after Ace built a new facility across the street, they sold the building to the city of Houston for $1 with the stated purpose that it be used for a library.
On Sept. 14, 2002, the library officially opened, stocked with thousands of donated books and run by the dedication of its volunteers. Soon after, the now famous mural of books on the outside of the building began to take shape. As grateful as they were to have a library however, the library board was already making plans for a renovation. They began tucking away extra money from the operating budget, writing grants, and planning lots and lots of fundraisers. Ten years later, the community gathered Sunday to celebrate the re-opening of what Marilyn Frauenkron-Bayer, a long-time supporter of the library, says is “the heartbeat of the community.”
Since Dec. 17, 2011 when the library closed, contractors and volunteers have worked tirelessly to update the library. Thankfully, they came in on time and within budget, spending about $80,000 on the entire project, with a substantial in-kind value in donations of items and time from people throughout the community. In the process, they’ve removed three walls, put in two bay windows (one in the children’s room and one in the newly created young adult section), replaced the back door, painted all the shelving and walls and created a new office space with new counters and tops. There is a new ceiling, lighting, ventilation, furnace and carpet; in addition, there’s five new computers and desks, a new wooden floor in the children’s room and bright new furniture all around.
“Wow! I can’t remember what it used to look like,” murmured excited visitors as they admired the library. Others expressed gratitude that the library would be open again. “This is my family here,” said Jayne Gilmer, a member of a knitting group that meets every Thursday at the library. Tiffany Prow agreed, saying the library is “a lifeline–for so many people.”
Perhaps Roy Ask, a 95 year-old life-long resident of Houston, said it best when he stated, “This library is one of the best things to happen to this town.” Based on the number of folks celebrating the library, it appears he may be right.