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New home or old, library likely to stay downtown

April 08, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.-With more than 200,000 visits last year, the Coyle Free Library has a future in downtown Chambersburg, although whether it remains in the century-old building at 102 N. Main St. remains to be determined.

Participants in a recently concluded feasibility study regarding the library indicated that most felt the original goal of raising $7.3 million to renovate, relocate or build a new library was unrealistic. According to the more than 100 respondents, a goal of $3 million is more realistic.

"I'm not that concerned about that because if we can raise $3 million locally," the project could qualify for matching funds from state grant programs, said Bernice Crouse, executive director of the Franklin County Library System. How much money is needed depends on which option is chosen, she said.

"Everybody pretty much wants to stay in the downtown, and that was never really in question," Crouse said. "We need a downtown presence."

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Study participants agreed, however, that a capital campaign to raise money for Coyle should wait until the $790,000 debt on the Grove Family Library is retired, Crouse said. The second phase of a campaign to pay off the library's debt begins in May, she said.

Crouse said she hopes that by the end of August, businesses and individuals will have made the financial commitments necessary to pay off the debt within five years.

Once those commitments are secured, Crouse said the capital campaign for the Coyle library can begin. The debt on the $3.5 million Grove Library had been more than $1 million when it opened last year, she said.

"I would say we're talking at least three years to construction," Crouse said of the Coyle project.

Originally built as a U.S. Post Office shortly after the turn of the last century, Coyle has limited interior space and parking, decaying masonry in spots and rusting cast-iron pipes, including downspouts inside the walls that "rust out on a regular basis," Crouse said.

The computers were used more than 29,000 times by patrons last year, but the public computer space is cramped, Crouse said. More space is needed for teens and senior citizens, the latter having special interests in such areas as investments, travel and part-time careers, she said.

The children's room is in the basement with no natural light, and the largest space for holding library programs only will accommodate 50 people, she said.

The one option of renovating and expanding at the existing library, supported by 41 percent of respondents, presents some challenges. The building cannot expand north into its parking lot because a sewer main runs beneath the asphalt. King Street Elementary School to the east will be closed within a few years by the Chambersburg Area School District, but the library would have to acquire the property.

Thirty-four percent supported finding an existing downtown building suitable for renovation, while 25 percent favored new construction downtown. The support for a new location came as a bit of a surprise to Crouse.

"Most people seem to identify with Coyle the library, not Coyle the building," Crouse said. The library system has looked at some downtown sites, including a church that later was sold, and another property she is not at liberty to reveal.

"It's no secret that one of the buildings is the old County Market at Southgate Mall," Crouse said. "Structurally, it would be a good idea. It's a big empty building that could be customized for a library with relative ease."

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