Chesterton Tribune

Library Board mulls reviving adult ed center here

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For years, Westchester Public Library has provided the classroom space and equipment needed to operate the Chesterton Adult Learning Center at WPL’s Library Service Center.

But now the school is closed after the Portage Township School System pulled the financial plug when funding fell short earlier this year.

Thursday, the Library Board tentatively discussed what would be needed for WPL to resurrect the adult-education program should an alternate funding source not materialize.

Library director Phil Baugher said Indiana Workforce Development has been investigating financial options for the learning center and he recommended giving the agency more time to do so.

But if it doesn’t find the needed cash, the Library Board likely will revisit the matter this fall.

Baugher sounded a caution. “That may be something we look at in the future if everything falls apart, but I don’t want people to think we’ll pick up the whole slack.”

Baugher said literacy is part of WPL’s mission and the learning center provided basic adult education, reading fundamentals, retraining, brush-up skills, English as a second language and GED preparation for the high-school equivalency exam.

Without the center, “There’d be a big void there,” according to Baugher.

Said Library Board member Vern Odom, “If we took it over, it may have to be scaled back somewhat from what it was operating before.” He added that the value of the learning center shouldn’t be underestimated because for some, just a little bit of help will build their self-confidence and enable them to pursue a more formal education.

Board president John Corso noted that some students need access to such classes to get a GED so they can enter military service, while others might be mandated by a court system to pursue a GED.

Corso said it may take a lot of voluteers to help staff the learning center if the library decides to reopen it.

WPL attorney Terry Hiestand said it’s hard to understand how the funding crisis for adult education isn’t on the State of Indiana’s radar at a time of high employment.

WPL currently is offering a pilot remedial program for youngsters who would benefit from extra reading instruction.

In other business, Baugher said he’s evaluating whether it would be feasible to expand WPL’s online services including links to books and videos available via download as well as limited selections from the Sony music catalog.

"It’s something to watch,” he told the board. “It’s something libraries will do more of in the future.”

Baugher reported that lesser-used WPL materials like audio and video tapes are dragging down some circulation statistics. For June, circulation was up 72 percent at Hageman Library in Porter and down 1.59 percent at Thomas Library in Chesterton. Overall year-to-date, circulation system-wide is up 2.57 percent.

Nevertheless, visitor count at Thomas was up by 15 percent through June 30 over 2009 to 85,963 patrons. Twenty percent was the increase in visitors at Hageman over the same period.

Financially, Baugher said WPL is on solid ground with just over $6.4 million on hand in investments and cash. Preparation of the proposed 2011 budget is being finalized and for planning purposes Library Board members authorized 3-percent employee raises be included.

It was announced that Tuesday of next week work is scheduled to begin on beefing up the air-conditioning in Thomas’ second-floor computer areas. Half the public terminals will be off-line at a time while the work is done and sessions may have to be limited if there is a waiting list; also, patrons may visit Hageman Library.

Baugher apologized for the inconvenience but said the upgrade is insurance for the computer equipment; completion of the project is slated for next Friday.

The director said he is working with the Chesterton Street Department on replacing the sidewalk along Calumet Road at the Library Service Center.

On a final note the Library Board, with members Nick Tilden and Sharon Robbins absent, agreed to host a regional workshop for library trustees and administrators Oct. 23 at the Library Service Center. Attendance will be limited. Speaker will be Dan Cain.

Reserving a larger venue in Michigan City was discussed, but WPL board members said they wanted to keep the tourism dollars in the Duneland area.



Posted 7/9/2010