Carnegie to rise from the ashes

MEDFORD — After seven years of meetings and recommendations from two community groups and a consulting agency, the 96-year-old Carnegie Library has found its new purpose: community gathering and public use, and possibly city offices.

Mayor Gary Wheeler, chairman of the Carnegie Work Group, said he's committed to fixing up the historic downtown building and reopening it to the public as soon as possible.

"I promised our high school graduating class of 1962 that we could have our 50-year class reunion there," he quipped, adding that plans are actually to have it open by January 2010.

The Carnegie Work Group is hosting an open house for the public in the former library building Wednesday. The meeting is an opportunity for community members to share ideas, suggestions and conversation with the committee surrounding the plan. The group also will be launching a fundraising campaign for the project.

Wheeler said the group decided to keep the building's uses broad and flexible. Small conferences, seminars, small music venues and rotating art exhibits are among the events he envisions.

The space could also be used for council or commission meetings, though he wants to ensure the city is careful about that and doesn't tie up the space.

"There has to be some flexibility for a group to come in," he said.

George Kramer, local historic preservation consultant and chairman of the Oregon Heritage Commission, is restoration consultant for the project. He said renovation plans include moving the elevator and restoring the original grand entrance. The upstairs will be elegantly renovated, he said.

"It's going to be a living room for downtown," said Kramer.

Community members can rent the upstairs space for a variety of events.

"The building needs to pay for itself," he said. "It has to generate enough income to keep itself going."

The Parks and Recreation Department, which is responsible for the building's maintenance, may keep a presence in the building.

"We're pretty sure that a good chunk of the lower floor will be office space," said Kramer.

Ben Truwe, Medford councilman and committee member, said the City Hall building is putting in a new heating and air-conditioning system, which will require portions of the office space to be vacated at times. The city will contribute to fixing up the Carnegie Library's first floor so staff can use the space temporarily while the new heat system is being installed, he said.

The details of the renovation costs and timeline haven't been worked out yet, he said.

"Everything's up in the air," said Truwe. He said the work group is under the authority of the council, which seems on board with the plan.

The Southern Oregon chapter of the American Institute of Architects has agreed to donate consulting and design services. The work group has also received grants for design consultation from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and the National Trust for Historic Preservation and just learned this week it will receive a $5,000 grant.

"We've been able to fund ourselves as we go here," said Wheeler.

Preliminary renovation costs once ranged from $1.5 million to $3 million, but Kramer said their recent estimate puts the price tag closer to $500,000, though the numbers have not been tallied. The building's in good shape and very little seismic retrofit work needs to be done, he said.

Mayor Wheeler said the building, after all, was designed to bear the weight of all those books.

"It's a nice little building, it really is in nice condition after all," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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