Chesterton Tribune

Library Board seeks soil tests of proposed community garden

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Westchester Public Library Board members voted Thursday to have a consultant perform limited soil testing on a WPL-owned vacant lot north of Hageman Library in Porter, where a community garden has been proposed.

Beyond that, board members raised questions over liability, the need for and scope of the project, and who would maintain it.

The board conducted its meeting at Hageman and viewed the site. A 24-foot by 32-foot pavilion at the southwest corner of Rankin and Francis streets, a shallow recirculating water feature, a planted arbor and other features have been suggested by Hageman branch manager Suzi Chomel and WPL landscaper Tim Miller.

The soil testing will cost $1,835 and additional groundwater samples $375 each. Board member Drew Rhed endorsed testing but voted no on the motion because the exact cost is unknown. Said member Nick Tilden, “Once the process begins, it needs to play out.”

Since growing fruits and vegetables would be part of project, WPL director Phil Baugher recommended the testing after learning a patent was awarded inventor Morton Bunnell in 1913 for an acetylene gas generator that might have been used on the site at his laboratory.

The cost of the total project is about $30,000. “This is still an idea. Nothing is etched in stone,” Miller told the board.

Said member Rick Hokanson, “I don’t know the need is there. Is it our responsibility as a library? Time and money is a bit of an issue. I’m not trying to be the bad guy here. Porter has nice parks and (Hawthorne Park) is not far away.”

Chomel said it’s not feasible for her to leave the library and take children there for a program. Environmental and botany projects held at Hageman in the past have been popular, she added, and the community garden would be an extension of that with amenities for all ages to enjoy.

Rhed said Wifi in the pavilion with seating would be well received, and Baugher said other libraries have outdoor community space.

Board members questioned who would supervise the new Hageman area, which would be attractive to children; whether using the space would leave too little room for a future library or parking expansion; and the amount of the expenditure itself.

Miller said some community groups and two schools have expressed an interest in the project, although no one from the public attended last night’s meeting. He said a primary goal for him is to get kids interested in more than computers.

As for the $30,000 commitment, the largest portion being $17,000 to remove the existing blacktop/gravel and bring in topsoil, Baugher said WPL has $6.7 million in all funds but with the economy it’s not known if all future property taxes will be collected.

Board president Claire Jolie said the project could be scaled back or phased if undertaken.

In the board’s WPL activity report for August it was noted circulation of materials at Hageman jumped by 30 percent last month. Jolie told Chomel she is impressed with the programming there.

Circulation at Thomas Library in Chesterton continued to lag slightly over 2010 levels but Baugher said that could turn around with school back in session. Year-to-date WPL has circulated 257,842 materials system-wide.

Library, museum hires

On a search committee’s recommendation the board unanimously hired Leea Yelich of Hebron to be the new Thomas branch manager, and Serena Sutliff as curator of the WPL-operated Westchester Township History Museum. Both assume the duties of outgoing WPL assistant director Jane Walsh-Brown, who is retiring at year’s end. Baugher said there were over 100 applicants for the positions including one from India for the Thomas post.

Sutliff previously worked as an intern at the WPL museum and holds a Masters Degree in History with a specialization in museum studies. A professional librarian, Yelich currently is an administrative secretary at the University of Chicago law library. Baugher said she also has a strong background in technology and came highly recommended.

Walsh-Brown will work with the women during a transition period. It was announced that in November, Walsh-Brown will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indiana Library Federation. WPL will host an open house for her Nov. 5 at the museum.

Other hires approved were Jerry Frye for Hageman maintenance and clerks Luci Doler and Gia Novak.

Personnel, policy changes

In part to comply with recent legislation, the board OK’d changes to its personnel and patron-conduct policies. One spells out how WPL will require employment applicants and contractors to abide by the E-Verify program dealing with unauthorized aliens.

Another policy prohibits the viewing of sexually explicit images and child pornography on library computers. The guidelines make a distinction between the acceptable viewing of nude art and using art in an inappropriate, suggestive way. The policy also details how employees should respond to situations related to the policy.

Another change reflects WPL’s need to allow patrons with a valid permit to bring handguns into library facilities; such weapons must be secured and not used in an intimidating manner. WPL employees may not bring weapons into the buildings, however.

In other business, the public is encouraged Sept. 11 and 12 from 1 to 5 p.m. to volunteer at either Thomas or Hageman libraries as part of the national 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance.

Baugher said he plans to upgrade WPL’s Wifi signal at both libraries, and more band width will be available at higher speeds when Comcast gets the new fiber router operating.



Posted 9/9/2011