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2/20/2014 3:00:00 PM
Decision on future of Carnegie Library balances historic preservation, modern uses

As the Vevay Town Council considers the future of the current town hall on Ferry Street, which was originally constructed as a Carnegie Library, the question arises that also impacts many communities: how does a community balance the desire for historic preservation and the need to make adaptations for such issues as the American Disability Act.

At last week's meeting of the Vevay Town Council, members heard a presentation on how the current town hall could be adapted and made handicapped accessible. The plan would involve changing some interior of the building, but would keep town hall at its current location.

Another consideration by the council would be to move town hall to Seminary Street and into the former "Company House" of the U.S. Shoe Corporation. The town already owns that building and uses it for various things, including the two meetings each month of the town council. The reasoning for having council meetings at the Seminary Street location rather than in town hall is one of accessibility, because the Seminary Street building is more handicapped accessible.

Moving town hall to Seminary Street could also serve as a means to consolidate town operations, because the new water plant would be right next door, and the utilities office is already in the building.

But all of that seems to leave the Ferry Street building in flux.

At the meeting, the town council assured everyone that if town hall was moved, the council would do everything it could to find a private buyer for the building - a buyer who would bring the historic building up to a standard that represents its rich heritage.

But there are supporters who also believe that the town can have both a more modern and accessible town hall, and at the same time stay on Ferry Street and preserve the heritage of the Carnegie Library location.

At the town council meeting, Seth Elder, Director of the Southeast Field Office of Indiana Landmarks, presented the council with a report on the assessment of the Carnegie Library, and also ways to reuse and adapt the building. Also being a part of the presentation was architect Robert Powell of RAP Associates.

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The findings of the study are included here, in an open letter on the Carnegie Library to the community from Seth Elder:



To Whom It May Concern:

This summer, Indiana Landmarks partnered with the Town of Vevay to produce an analysis and feasibility study of the historic Carnegie Library which currently serves as the Town Hall and Police Department. The concerns of the Town and the Police Department were simple: Is there a way to adapt the library to modern accessibility standards? Is there a way to adapt the library's interior space to suit the needs of a modern police department and administrative offices? Can these needs be met in a reasonable and cost-effective manner in the historic Carnegie Library?

At the February 10th Town Council meeting, architect Robert Powell of RAP Associates provided the answers: yes, yes, and yes.

Simply put, the Carnegie Library is a beautiful, historically and architecturally significant building with plenty of potential to serve the Town of Vevay for decades to come. Funded in part by Vevay's leading citizens, the library was designed and built in 1919 to the highest standards of its day - standards which, in many ways, far surpass common modern building practices. The Carnegie Library has been a point of civic and community pride for almost 100 years - and with proper maintenance and reasonable long-term planning, it could remain a beloved public space for 100 more.

There are certainly costs associated with these upgrades, as there are with any project. However, the previously quoted "in the neighborhood of $250,000 or more" figure is somewhat misleading. That figure is a rough estimate of the cumulative total of multiple, self-contained improvements that the town could accomplish in the Carnegie Library with limited or variable funding. For example: Is there one-time grant money available for accessibility? Then the accessibility portion of the design can be completed.

Is there room in the budget for a partial improvement of the Police Department? Then that design is available to be completed - without leaving half-finished construction until more funding becomes available, and without interrupting day-to-day services. Not every municipal project needs to be a total undertaking: the flexibility of a project is just as important as its bottom-line cost. The various phases of the plan allow for costs and projects to be spread over many years to preserve the modest and conservative nature of the town's budget.

Moreover, should the Town Hall and Police Department be moved to a modern facility (such as the former 'Company House'), many - if not all - of the projects proposed for the improvement of the Carnegie Library would still need to take place in the new facility. Are the costs of improving the former 'Company House' low enough to justify a major relocation of town services? Modern structures are not inherently more efficient or adaptable than historic structures. If the cost of services to the taxpayers is truly the driving factor in this decision, the town would be best served by thoroughly investigating the comparable costs to bring both buildings up to the same standard. The payback of investments in the Carnegie Library will be measured over decades. What is the expected usable life of the former 'Company House'?

If we can assume comparable costs - and accounting for the flexibility of the feasibility study, the exceptional quality of construction already present in the Carnegie Library, and a pay-back period of decades rather than years, I believe that to be so - we are still left with the issue of consolidating town services. And if services are to be consolidated, why would the Town not choose the highest quality building? Why would the Town not choose to consolidate into a building of proven architectural merit, which has already served the public for nearly a century?

The Town of Vevay, by its willingness to consider total relocation and renovation of a new space, has signaled that it is willing to put money and effort into improving its public facilities. Why not put the money toward the better facility?

The issue, as stated by a resident during the Town Council meeting, simply comes down to dignity. Does the Town of Vevay wish its public face to be that of the former 'Company House' near the water plant? Or do the residents of Vevay merit a Town Hall of beauty, integrity, and history in the heart of their downtown?

Nearly a century ago, Vevay's citizens came together to build a structure of enduring dignity for the benefit of the whole community. The feasibility study, supported by the Town of Vevay and Indiana Landmarks, has shown that - if there is will to do so - the Carnegie Library can continue to serve Vevay for decades to come.

Sincerely,

Seth Elder

Director of the Southeast Field Office,

Indiana Landmarks

Contact: selder@indianalandmarks.org

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So what is the opinion of the community? Vevay Media Group would like to create a dialogue on this matter, and invites members of the community to share their thoughts in an open and constructive way.

Send your thoughts to vevaynews@gmail.com; bring them into the newspaper office at 111 West Market Street; or FAX them to 427-2793. Be sure and include your name and address, and also a phone number in the event we would have a question about your letter. Phone numbers and specific addresses will not be printed; names must be included with all submissions.

This is an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and have a community conversation on this matter. Everyone's opinions are equally valued.





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