The more ambitious projects are coming with bigger checks and bigger challenges.

The Oregon Public Library capital campaign is Oregon’s third major community fundraising project in as many years, and it has kicked off with the same sort of eye-popping support as the Oregon Youth Center in late 2017 and the Oregon Area Food Pantry a year earlier.

Now armed with a $500,000 donation and concept plans for a two-story, 33,000 square foot facility on North Main Street, the library is culminating six months of planning and feedback with an all-out effort to meet or exceed its $4 million goal.

It started two weeks ago when its architect presented a draft set of plans and renderings to the village’s Planning Commission. After getting positive comments from a joint Library Board and Village Board meeting Monday night, the library posted the new plans to its website to begin the transition from what library director Jennifer Endres Way called the “quiet phase” of fundraising into a more public phase.

If fundraising goes well, Way said she hopes to start construction in 2021 and open in 2022 and turn the building into more of a community gathering place.

The plans include three cost tiers within the same building footprint with an estimated range between $10.7 million and $12.1 million, depending on technology and building materials, and the plans provide space for an eventual 5,500-square-foot addition should it be needed in the future to accommodate growth.

That provides plenty of room for the unknown factor of fundraising.

It certainly presents a bigger challenge than the youth center, which got an $800,000 donation toward its $1 million price tag, and the food pantry, which got nearly two-thirds of its $750,000 goal from that same single “angel investor,” as Oregon Community Resource Network chair and now Village Trustee Randy Glysch called the person. Adding to that challenge is that the community is also working on fundraising for the Jaycee Park West project at the same time.

But libraries are different animals, and a fundraising consultant hired last year found the gap between what the $6 million the Village Board voted to provide and the estimated cost of the building to be reasonable and feasible.

It also has precedent.

The Fitchburg Public Library had a similar goal a decade ago, when that city voted to put up $10 million toward a $14 million building, and it had raised three-fourths of that money by the time construction started in 2010.

Glysch has seen the community fund projects that are far less visible. Within months of moving to Oregon in 2013, he took charge on a long dormant effort to restore the pump house below the village’s iconic water tower, and when that exceeded all expectations, he led the fundraising to restore and light the tower itself.

He then set his sights on bigger goals – the food pantry and youth center – and secured the support of a single well-funded donor to get momentum for those projects.

“I think the donor is challenging the community to – I’m challenging everyone else now to come forward – to get this $10 million dollar library built,” Glysch told the Observer.

Coming up with plans

Fundraising for a large project like this has a bit of a chicken-and-egg component to it.

It can be difficult to get a community and investors rallied behind an abstract idea, but it’s also difficult to plan a multimillion-dollar facility without a set budget.

The first steps for the steering committee were to hire a consultant to evaluate, plan and lead the fundraising effort, then an architect to design a concept plan. Next, it put together a 40-member building capital campaign committee to get broader community feedback.

OPN architects, which designed the new Oregon Youth Center, put together a presentation for the Planning Commission and the Village Board. Its first version showed a gray, two-story building full of windows set back 50 feet from its property lines, but after some feedback, it added earth tones to the facade for the board.

The first floor would be focused on the all-purpose community room – configurable to about 150 seats – and children’s space, while the second floor would have more quiet areas, with adult and young adult sections.

Some key features include an area for children’s programming, a sensory room, an area for new mothers, a drive-thru book drop, a second-floor makerspace and several quiet, study and conference rooms.

“We want people to know there’s something there for everyone,” Glysch said.

The plans include three options within the same floor plan – one for a lower investment, one for medium and one for a higher investment.

Amenities in the higher-end version, for about $1.5 million more, include a labor-saving automatic book drop return, additional computer equipment, more expensive furnishings and additional audio/visual equipment.

Way said what’s important is making sure it meets all the community’s needs.

“We keep talking about the building, and it’s really about the people and the community,” she said. “It levels the playing field for everyone.”

Positive feedback

Commissioners and trustees generally liked the look and feel and the way the architects cobbled it together while listening to a variety of opinions.

Some critiqued the color scheme, the amount of parking and the potentially increased utility costs with so many windows. Other concerns included whether to hire a construction manager and even how often to wash the windows.

But the plans have a long way to go, as OPN so far has been hired only to produce a concept. More detailed plans would need to be developed after the bulk of the fundraising process.

“Right now, it’s really going to help us build the infrastructure,” Way told the Observer. “Exactly what it will look like, we won’t be sure until the final budget.”

One of the most contentious concerns has been parking.

The concept shows 120 parking stalls to accommodate the increased traffic at the library, and some neighbors have expressed unhappiness with the idea of so much asphalt and so many vehicles.

To ensure those viewpoints are represented well, the Library Board added a neighborhood position to its building committee, Way said.

The commission tossed around several ideas for reducing the amount of pavement that would be needed for parking and encouraging more pedestrian and bicycle access.

“We’re just starting those conversations and still fighting to try to go with the spirit of the zoning as much as possible,” OPN architectural intern Brett Rottinghaus told the commission. “We’ve kept it off of Main Street and holding the line with respect to houses in the neighborhood.”

Fundraising steps

Fundraising will undoubtedly be easier starting with a half-million dollars in hand, but if the committee were to aim for the higher-cost version, it would still need about $5.6 million more.

Among the opportunities are naming rights, providing recognition for various levels of donation and seeking grants from organizations such as the Madison Community Foundation.

“We’re open to any suggestions,” Way said. “We’re exploring every opportunity.”

One of the biggest steps was getting feedback from village leadership, and with that finished, the committee plans a community presentation in the next few weeks to continue what Way called a continuous improvement process.

Outgoing trustee Jeff Boudreau drew nods and a call of “Amen” by Village President Jeanne Carpenter on Monday when he said the village should consider borrowing more if that’s what the project needs.

“You build it right or you build it over,” he said, noting that the current library is expected to be bulldozed. “I would really encourage the Village Board and the community at large to lean into this project and not get too caught up on the pennies and miss the opportunity to build the right library at a cost that makes sense.”

Glysch told the Observer securing the big gift helps get people fired up about giving smaller donations and being part of the project.

But even though it was part of the plan, he still couldn’t believe how well it started.

“I got an email and I had to read it 10 times with the amount,” he said. “I thought, ‘Was there a typo?’”

Way said some of the quiet phase is continuing, with conversations with leaders and others who are determining how the project will go, and the public fundraising likely will hit its stride early next year.

“The sooner we can reach our goal, the sooner we can get started,” she said.

Glysch pointed out that it isn’t often a community gets to build a library from scratch.

“This is once-in-a-lifetime,” he said. “This will be it for many years.”

Email Oregon Observer editor Jim Ferolie at oregonobserver@wcinet.com.