Manheim Library contemplating move

By on April 16, 2014

Stiegel Elementary eyed as possible site

Manheim Public Library director Barbara Basile (left) and vice president, Ken Hameloth.

Manheim Public Library director Barbara Basile (left) and vice president, Ken Hameloth.

 

Award-winning fantasy author Neil Gaiman once said, “A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it … It’s a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.”

What happens when that haven from the world becomes too small and too inaccessible for the community it serves? That is the problem the Manheim Community Library is facing.

“We have long outgrown this space,” library director Barbara Basile said, “The borough of Manheim has provided us with this space for many years. It is just too small for all the things we hope to do and all the services we hope to provide for the community. There are access issues that are enormous. The parking situation has grown more complicated and more difficult as the years go by.

“Some of our key service recipients are seniors and families with young children and both of them find accessing this building difficult,” Basile continued. “It is a challenge. We know some of that will remain because no matter where we go in Manheim Borough the streets are tight. That is part of the charm of this town and I wouldn’t change that for anything, but on the other hand people need to remember that one of the charms is also one of the difficulties.”

The library’s vice president, Ken Hameloth, agreed.

“When you do find parking, and it is usually at the lot across the street, you get to cross either High Street or Main Street,” Hameloth said. “There are laws in the state of Pennsylvania that say that traffic must yield to pedestrian crossing but I don’t think everyone knows that. Sometimes families with children find difficulty just in crossing these busy streets.”

While the difficulties in the library’s current space — the second floor of the Manheim Borough office building — do seem insurmountable, Basile feels it is imperative to keep the library in the heart of Manheim.

“We feel that staying right here in the heart of Manheim is important,” Basile said. “The library can be a real community center. Not only are we looking to provide traditional library services, but we are looking to expand some of the services we provide and to become a community gathering point. We feel a library is a natural place for this. Libraries remain one of the few places in the community where everyone is welcome no matter age, values, or beliefs &tstr; everyone is welcome.

“It is an important benefit for communities,” Basile insisted. “It demonstrates to the rest of the world that you are a community that believes in the power of education. If we stay down here, we are going to keep the downtown part of Manheim vital and an attractive destination for young families. We want to stay here. That is why we think it is important to be a good community partner and give the community the best possible space. And this is a very snug existence right now.”

One of the major difficulties is finding a suitable space in Manheim for the library to move into.

“The problem with staying in Manheim is the lots are small so that even if properties become available it is difficult to find one or two properties next to one another that we could build a library big enough to make it worthwhile to move,” Barbara said. “The buildings that are larger in this community tend to be older and are going to require significant renovations which imply significant expense. There is a definite site we have in mind, though. As many people in the community know there are some larger properties coming available through the school district and so we are talking to the school district about that possibility and we are evaluating some opportunities.”

“We are looking at the Stiegel Elementary building,” Hameloth added. “There haven’t been any commitments — nothing close to a real commitment — from either side yet, it is just part of the exploratory stage. Should any move happen it will still be several years away.”

“We would like to see the library move into the Stiegel Elementary building,” Patrick McGeehan of the Manheim School Board Facilities Committee said, “They are looking for more space and we would like them to move in there and keep it a public building. Everyone on the school board is all for the library moving in. Since the library is a non-profit organization, they can deal directly with us without having to worry about the competitive bids that would be required in dealing with a private business.”

The school district is in the process of building a larger, centralized elementary school that will also house the administration offices, rendering Stiegel Elementary unnecessary as a school building.

“Stiegel was Manheim’s very first school,” Basile said. “It is one hundred years old this year. It’s pretty exciting to think that that building could still be a community venue. The Stiegel building is just one block away from our current location. That’s the upside. The downside is that it is a hundred year old building and it would need significant work.”

Nothing about the move written in stone.

“There is a lot we don’t know yet,” said Basile. “Part of our learning curve is learning what we would have to do to make that building into a facility that works for us.”

While the age of the building poses some potential problems, there are some immediate advantages.

“It does have good parking,” Basile said. “We would fix some of the access issues we’ve been dealing with.”

Manheim Borough has also been supportive of the potential move.

“The borough has been very supportive of our review of the situation,” Basile said. “I requested that the Borough act as a pass-through for a Keystone Access Grant and that grant is simply to supply us with funds for investigating feasibility to see if the building is suitable for our use. Because it is a big building and it will need a lot of work and we will need some kind of idea how much it may cost to renovate for our purposes. That is what we have to figure out.”

“The borough is trying to help us,” Basile continued. “They are trying to alleviate the pressure. Six or seven months ago, they gave us three 20-minute parking spaces behind this building. Every little bit helps and it is nice to know we have their support.”

The bottom line is that the Manheim Community Library is having difficulty servicing the residents of Manheim.

“We know we lose patronage to other community libraries,” Hameloth admitted. “You know there are people going other places because our library is not conveniently accessible, and we would like to fix that.”

“We don’t have to have a huge fancy building to provide expanded services to the community,” Basile said, “but certainly we could expand the breadth of our services if we had a larger, more accessible space.”

Merriell Moyer is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at merriell071@gmail.com.

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