The Knox County Public Library Board of Trustees on Tuesday gave unanimous approval for two projects that will better ensure the library remains inviting and accessible to all patrons.
The brick wall around the historic Carnegie portion of the library will soon come tumbling down following the board’s approval of a bid submitted by Wolfe Construction, 2724 Washington Ave., for an exterior wall renovation.
Addressing board members, library director Emily Bunyan says taking down the wall that hides much of the historic library, 502 N. Seventh St., will make “the gorgeous facade of the Carnegie more visible.”
Bunyan and local architect Larry Donovan went before the city’s Historic Review Board in March seeking approval to remove the wall, which spans parts of Seventh and Seminary streets and has often been referred to by locals as something of an eyesore.
Board member Janice Mott spoke in favor of the removal, saying she has personally had a number of community members ask “when we’re going to take that thing down.”
The Carnegie library was constructed in 1919 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation, but demand for more space prompted an expansion in 1975.
It was then that the wall was constructed around the Carnegie, largely hiding its collegiate gothic style.
“The purpose was to unite it with the architecture of the new part,” Bunyan explained to HRB members in March, noting that, unfortunately, the architectural firm hired for the job had previously, almost exclusively, designed jails.
“There were even bars on the windows of the library at one point.
“Someone actually came to town for an interview years ago and thought it was the jail,” Bunyan has said.
Removing the wall, she has contended, will provide an unobstructed view of the historic library, making the library a more welcoming place to all.
“And I think it would just be a real point of pride for people in the community,” Bunyan said on Tuesday.
After demolition of the existing wall is complete, the library courtyard in front of the Carnegie building will be fully enclosed with a six feet tall wrought iron fence, providing security for children enjoying the outdoor space.
The project is expected to be completed this fall.
Board members also approved a request to upgrade the main library building’s elevator.
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Installed in 1976 as part of the library’s expansion, Bunyan says an elevator technician completing a repair in February said it was time to consider updating the lift.
“He told us we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it, and that sometime we would need an upgrade,” she said. “It still works, but at some point we’ll need to modernize it so we’re trying to be proactive.”
In late June a representative from Evansville-based Oracle Elevator Company gave Bunyan and board members a tour of the elevator shaft and mechanical room, explaining the inner workings and mechanics.
Board member Amanda Feavel said after the tour she was convinced it’s time to upgrade.
“I was surprised by how many times the elevator was used just in the short amount of time we were in there, which was going to be my biggest question,” she said.
Rebecca Roach agreed that it’s time to spend the funds to upgrade, saying that not only is a modernization of the mechanics needed, she felt good about the company making the recommendations.
“He could have come in and said ‘it’s old and it all has to go, but he didn’t,” she said. “He talked a lot about what could be saved and used — He wasn’t trying to sell us on something, he was just honest.”
Board members, too, noted they felt comfortable with the recommendations from Oracle as they are the company that installed the elevator and has been servicing it the past 46 years.
Bunyan thanked board members for approving the project, noting that the elevator is what makes all floors of the library accessible to everyone who enters.
“We have a lot of people who come in using a walker, there are parents pushing strollers — People use it,” she said.
The group also said farewell to longtime, outgoing board president Yvette Kirchoff, who recently moved outside of Knox County.
Kirchoff served on the board for 11 years, including five consecutive terms as board president.
Bunyan offered her heartfelt gratitude for Kirchoff’s longterm support of the library and for her commitment to the “principles of diversity and inclusion, and her boundless generosity.”
The board’s vice president Mike Jacobs was elected by the group to serve in the new leadership role.
The board of trustees also welcomed new member Polly Halter, who was appointed by the Vincennes Community School Corp.