St. Clair County library pitches 5-year plan to commissioners

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

The St. Clair County Library System has developed a five-year plan that includes the possibility of expanding its Port Huron branch.

The draft road map has been approved by the library system board and must now be considered by the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners.

Allison Arnold, director of the St. Clair County Library System, said the plan was made to focus the library’s efforts.

“We have a finite amount of money and a finite amount of staff,” Arnold said. “It helps us to be efficient by using the resources we have available.”

Arnold said this plan will be important for their next step forward, as libraries are trying to combine print and technology.

“We need to utilize the tax dollars to the best of their ability,” Arnold said. “You have your home, and you have your work. We would like to become that third place where people can gather and socialize.”

The system’s board of trustees approved the strategic plan at its regular meeting on Jan. 27. The plan will next be presented to the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners for final approval on Feb. 5.

No decision has been made about expanding the library’s downtown Port Huron branch. The library board is committing only to studying the pros and cons of an expansion. Arnold said there is no specific time line for the decision to be made.

The decision ultimately will have to consider the main branch’s current building and what is possible there, Arnold said, as well as how much it will cost and how it will be paid for.

Arnold said the current building is inadequate for library service needs. There isn’t enough space and the building doesn’t meet current building codes. The building was constructed in the 1960s.

“There are some code issues that have changed in regards to floor and ceiling heights,” Arnold said. “The board is aware that a new building or reconstruction is not something that happens right away. It takes a lot of planning.”

Until a decision is made, Arnold said, the library staff will look at the space and consider changes for the placement of the book stacks and the service desk.

Library Board President Kathleen Wheelihan said the plan was put together with help from the St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning Commission and took more than six months to put together.

“In the plan we had some key findings, and we looked at trends,” Arnold said. “That helped us to formulate our goals. Some of the things we were hoping to focus on included technology, library innovation, outreach and collaborative partnerships.”

The strategic plan includes eight goals:

• Building the system’s physical and virtual presence

• Enhancing the quality of life in the community

• Fostering a culture of innovation

• Ensuring financial stability

• Marketing library services

• Researching a library expansion

• Providing a positive environment for staff and patrons

• Assessing four of its provided services every year

“The strategic plan gives us a list of things to focus on for the immediate future. We have to do something to upgrade the building, whether that will be an addition or remodeling,” Wheelihan said.

Wheelihan said that because the library is an older building, it might be expensive to update.

The county system operates 11 libraries and partners with municipalities to keep buildings functional. The goals included in the strategic plan will be applied to all libraries, including the main library building in Port Huron.

Since the county owns the main library building, Arnold said, the library would have to partner with the county as well as the city of Port Huron.

In 2014, the village of Capac and Ira Township helped expand their library branches.

“We have the Ira Township expansion, which almost doubled their space,” Arnold said. “The Capac Library expansion is not quite finished, but it will double its original size.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 2, 2015)

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