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Community Excellence: AuGres Community Library/Cultural Arts Center
By Jennifer Eberbach
The city of AuGres was honored as Region 4’s finalist in the Michigan Municipal League’s 2008 Community Excellence Award competition. The League is highly impressed by the creation of the AuGres Community Library/Cultural Arts Center, which has been open to the public since 2004. The Center’s cost was nearly $850,000, which might seem an improbable task for a town of less than 5,000 people, most of whom make a moderate to low income. Although securing enough funds was not an easy feat, AuGres’ dedicated effort proved that their vision for a better community space was not impossible.
On September 4, 2004, the Community Library/Cultural Arts Center’s 3,900 square feet of space became open to the public. The Center offers patrons access to computers and Wi-Fi internet access, which marks a 500-percent increase in public access to computers. A 457-percent increase in usable square footage compared to the city’s original library has created new opportunities for cultural arts programming and educational activities for children. Since it opened, the Center has been well received by the AuGres community, and library attendance has increased around 328 percent. Another significant aspect of the new site is an improved natural, green area around the Center, which features bike paths that connect the two banks of the nearby river and provide easy access to the city’s campground. The site provides pedestrians with accessibility to public space in a more cohesive environment.
AuGres City Manager Patricia Killingbeck explained that the Center is located in a section of the city she calls “our urban renewal area.” The new Community Library/Cultural Arts Center resides on the site of the city’s previous library, which was condemned in 2002. She elaborated, “We had a lot of old buildings in the area, and the street was not in good condition.” She reported that the old road was badly maintained, without sidewalks and curbs, and without adequate drainage. The new site not only houses the Center, but the adjacent street and green areas along the nearby river have been significantly improved as well.
The city had already commenced plans to replace the old, ill-equipped, 700 square foot library in 2000, but they initially had difficulty getting financial assistance from adjoining townships and other funding sources. At some point, the library’s future probably looked dire to Killingbeck and concerned AuGres residents. However, the city’s commitment to their vision of a new, better community space was strong. “We thought it was so important to keep the library and the potential for arts and culture to be in the community,” Killingbeck said.
Concerned members in the AuGres community jumped to the city’s challenge of financing the Center. A two year-long collaborative effort between the city of AuGres and dedicated community volunteers resulted in approximately $170,000 in private donations and fundraising event dollars. Subsequently, the city successfully applied for three large state and private foundation grants equaling an additional $676,000 in funds, which allowed for construction to commence in 2003. In 2005, the city procured additional support from an Iosco-Arenac county millage, which extended the Center’s hours of operation and programming.
In the future, Killingbeck hopes to extend the Center’s hours from 32 hours to 40 hours a week. She also sees potential in holding outdoor community events on the Center’s grounds. “With the campground across the river, there is potential for more people to become involved.”
Killingbeck admitted that before they decided to submit the project to be considered for the Community Excellence Award, she had not yet fully grasped the magnitude of the undertaking. “You kind of take things for granted,” she said. “It doesn’t hit home, I think, because you are so busy getting it completed that you don’t analyze how huge of a job it was for those involved.” In hindsight, Killingbeck realized that building the AuGres Community Library/Cultural Arts Center was “a pretty major project,” which has positively impacted community life in AuGres and helped renew part of downtown.
Jennifer Eberbach is a freelance journalist and professional copywriter. You may contact her at 734-929-2964 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her online at www.jenthewriter.info.