Renovating for learning futures
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – After three years of planning, work on McMillan Memorial Library’s Learning Futures project is underway.
“We did a lot of looking at what other libraries were doing. We looked at what Mid-State had done in their long-range plan. We looked at what Incourage did in their planning process, which was really quite extensive,” recalled McMillan Library Director Andy Barnett.
“We looked at what the chamber listed as major needs. We looked at what United Way said were major needs, and we said, ‘Okay, what parts of those fit in with what we do – lifelong learning?’ I mean, we are not the schools; we are not Mid-State. But, there are definitely pieces of that that fit right into life-long learning; whether it’s for kids during the summer, extra-curricular activities.
“Schools, they teach you how to use Powerpoint; they may teach you how to use Photoshop, but then when the class is done, is it like French – do I totally forget it?
“Here, they can continue to come in and use Powerpoint or Photoshop or Premiere (Pro) or work with audio files or things like that, on their own at whatever they feel best suits their interest.
“Maybe they’ll never put out an album, but maybe they’ll be a sound engineer. Maybe they’ll never make a movie, but they may be a costume designer. I mean there are so many roles. When you see the end credits of a movie and it goes on for five minutes with all of those names. There are a lot of jobs there.”
Barnett said that part of the goal is to give their patrons a continuum of education, so learning does not stop when the exit the classroom, but also to learn new skills they may want to explore.
“We are interested in having kids on one hand, but also adults. Adults need to be retrained; we know you need to be retrained just to keep your current job, because everyone needs new skills all of the time,” he explained.
“The things we teach most here is Excel – we have online classes in Excel – and that is our most popular class because people get into a job, and they have to use Excel and they didn’t learn that in high school. Suddenly, they actually have to be skilled at something and so we have online classes on those things.”
Getting your toe wet
“There are skills we’ll teach. There are public schools; there is the university; there are the tech schools. They are all really good at what they do, but the informal, ‘I want to get my toe wet,’ we are a place you can do that. You can come in and go, ‘I need to learn a little bit about personnel management, because my job now requires that.’ Do you get a degree? Do you get a certificate? Do you just need help not drowning? We have a class, “How not to drown in personnel management.” Barnett laughed.
“Our goal is that informal, individually-driven, kind of need-driven instruction and learning. People don’t stop needing it their whole life – 12-year-olds need it, 70-year-olds need it.
Learning Futures project
To better meet these needs, the library is undergoing a $2 million renovation project to best utilize space and meet current city codes. This is the largest redesign the facility has undergone since the library opened in 1970.
Over 16,000 square feet of space will be under construction until late 2021.
The redesign in the upper floor’s adult room will feature an enlarged makerspace, which includes a recording studio, computer training area, and program space. It will also house 3D printers, a laser cutter, and Carvey wood mill.
Five individual and group rooms are being added to aide in online training, classes, and meetings. The space will include a new reservable meeting room, as well.
The skylight will get a makeover, with new lights and fans to improve the environment.
The library’s theater will receive new seats, improved handicapped accessibility, and a new screen. The All Purpose Room is also being renovated.
“We are your tax dollars at work, like the schools. It’s free, but it’s free because we are a government agency – a government agency that gets a lot of extra community support,” Barnett stated about the library services, adding that community support is a driving factor in the library project.
Barnett said that the total estimate of the project was at $2 million and 95 percent of the project will be privately funded, including $1.0 million from a Legacy Foundation matching grant, $100,000 from the Bell Family Charitable Trust, and $400,000 from a library endowment.
A contribution from the city will cover the flooring and skylight repair. “$109,000 – the city, that is the most that they given us for a project ever since this building was built,” he added.
“Outside of that, the rest of the $2 million is going to be privately funded.”
While the campaign has already collected the money they need for the project. Barnett said they are still fundraising for the project.
All books and other materials are accessible during construction, though seating is limited.
For more information, visit https://www.mcmillanreimagined.org.