By Justine McGuire
Williamston Post staff writer
WILLIAMSTON – Williamston Community Library Foundation is working toward getting a new library building in Williamston and wants its millage, .67 mils for 20 years, on the ballot in August 2012.
The foundation’s president and long-time Wheatfield Township resident, Jack Helder, has presented his proposal to the Williamston City Council, the Wheatfield Township Board of Trustees and the Williamstown Township Board of Trustees.
Since the presentations, the Williamstown trustees have voted to send representatives to negotiate for a joint building authority, Wheatfield has declined, and Williamston has not yet made a decision.
Helder said that the primary reason Wheatfield gave was a lack of support in the community for a new library. He added that 50 households plan to attend the March 13 meeting to try to convince them to reconsider.
The three units of government must agree upon a joint building authority then apply to have the millage on local ballots.
“We, as a foundation, would be working to encourage the community to vote ‘yes’ on that ballot initiative,” Helder said.
The foundation is giving its presentation to community civic organizations, including the Lions Club, Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
The governments almost came to an agreement in 2005 but there were unresolved issues with zoning and property. In summer 2011, all the property needed to resolve those issues was purchased and the foundation is now ready to move forward, Helder said.
The foundation has purchased land on Grand River Avenue next door to the Riverhouse Inn.
One of the five trustees in Wheatfield seemed engaged in the presentation and a number of people asked questions at city council, Helder said. But he added that he has no idea at this point whether the initiative will make it to the ballot.
“If one of the townships or the city chooses not to form that joint building authority then we’re back to square one, we have to come up with another solution,” Helder said. “That’s the way a democracy works. I try to tell the trustees and the city council, ‘give the voters a chance,’ that’s what a democracy is all about. If they want to pay for a library, they should get the chance.”
Library patron Mike Huffman said that he would probably vote ‘yes’ if the initiative is on the ballot.He added that he uses the library several times a year.
A 2009 survey taken by the foundation showed that 62 percent of people from Williamston, Wheatfield and Williamstown used the library and 66 percent of people said that the current library was inadequate.
“The amount that the library is used, even in its current condition, really speaks to the fact that people in Williamston and the surrounding areas really value library service. We have high usage and I think it would be even higher if we had a larger facility. We often have people say to us that they don’t bother coming here because it depresses them.” — Julie Chrisinske, head librarian at Williamston Community Library
The current library is an 800-square-foot room in the Williamston Community Center and houses 12,000 books with seating for seven and five computers. The proposed library will be 10,500 square feet and will hold 35,000 books, seating for 70, and more than 30 computers.
“We could become more of a community center, rather than just a library, where you have offerings for all parts of our community, not just people who come in to check out a book,” Chrisinske said.
“Right now, I don’t think that Wheatfield and Williamstown townships see Williamston as their community,” Helder said. “I don’t know that they even have a sense of community, but I think a library can help create that sense of community.That’s why I think it’s really important for the city to invest in this.”
Helder said that this new library is also important because it will provide year-round learning for students, a good place for parents of young children to go and a resource for senior citizens. In addition, libraries are important for real estate values and business development.
Chrisinske said that the new building would be a jewel in the community, something everyone could be proud of.
Helder said: “People don’t have kids in schools but yet they vote yes for schools and that’s because people need schools and use schools and I think the same thing is true with libraries.