DOWAGIAC — Voters took a second look at a tax proposal to expand the Dowagiac District Library, and they liked what they saw.
District voters on Tuesday approved a 1-mill levy to fund the $7.4 million expansion, which was narrowly defeated in August. About 52 percent of voters cast “yes” votes Tuesday.
Dowagiac District Library Director Matt Weston credited Tuesday’s success on efforts to inform more people about the proposal.
“We got signage up and got the word out,” he said. “We were speaking to more people. The signs were the big thing. We got more inquiries and that let to more discussion about our plans.”
Besides having a better outcome, he said that he’s glad more people voted. While 1,711 votes were cast in August, 4,451 votes were cast Tuesday.
“With more people voting, we got a bigger representation of the people,” he said. “We felt like there was more of a complete response.”
Library officials and board members specifically made an effort to reach out the Van Buren County voters in Keeler Township who live in the library district with limited success. People there voted against the new millage in August and continued to vote against it Tuesday. In addition, Bainbridge Township residents in the district voted against it.
“We had events out there and we found that people said they’re not using the Dowagiac library,” he said. “They’re more likely to go to the library in Hartford, but they forget that they can go there because they have a Dowagiac library card.”
Weston said the next steps include going back to the architect to make sure the plans are ready to go.
“There will be about an eight-month window before we have a ground-breaking,” he said. “We expect there will be a late summer ground-breaking.”
Once work starts, he said the building expansion is scheduled to be done by the end of 2020. He’s not sure of when the work to restore the front façade of the structure to the look of the original Carnegie building will be done.
“The goal is for the library to stay open as long as we can through the work,” he said.
The new addition will more than double the library’s size with the expansion going out the back of the building, Weston said. The library has 7,200 square feet, which will be increased to 15,000.
The project will include removing the modern front of the building to improve the building’s appearance as well as work to help the library serve people better. He said there will be space for a community room, study rooms, quiet areas, teens and pre-teen areas as well as space for more computers and more books.