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How to save the Commerce Public Library

COMMERCE - “The Commerce Public Library will be an attractive, comfortable, accessible center for information exchange, responsive to the changing needs of the community,” so reads a section of the mission statement.

And while officials say operating expenses are adequate, renovation needs are high, hence the call of Thursday night’s “Save the Library” meeting, which addressed a full house at Commerce City Hall.

The Commerce Public Library was established in 1954 and in 1971 moved to the old post office building along Park Street. The Texas historical landmark was built in 1918.

Operating expenses are addressed through the Friends of the Library, comprised of 15 board members and six standing committees. By the end of the night Thursday, the newly established Friends of the Restoration had three members and already received a few donations from meeting attendees.

“I think everybody here is one our side. They want it to happen,” commented library volunteer Mike Odom. “But it’s not going to happen without individual people here and people who couldn’t be here but who’s hearts are in the right place... which is why we’re asking for something independent of city government, something independent of the board of directors [Friends of Library] but another group of concerned citizens who are willing to really commit.”

According to a budget outline compiled by Jim Patton, this new committee has a big task ahead of them. Generate roughly $400,000 for restoration and improvements to the Commerce Public Library. Needs include but are not limited to site drainage improvements, roof repairs, interior painting, fire alarm and sprinkler system, handicapped accessible ramp and toilet, new shelving and elevator.

One big hurdle has already been climbed, the installation of a new air conditioning unit valued at $28,500.

According to City Manager Marc Clayton, the city provides the library with $57,000 annually plus pays utilities. That’s been the process since the 2003-2004 budget.  Those dollars account for three cents of the property tax.

Library volunteer Mike Roberts says their yearly budget is $90,000, two-thirds of which account for staff salaries and wages.

“From a financial operating perspective the library is strong and we have the financial resources to continue operating for the foreseeable future,” Roberts said. “For example, for the past two years the library’s net income was combined $28,000 and it looks like we’re going to further that this year. Our success is because of the support from the city, donations from citizens and the hard work of library staff and the board.”

This was not the case a few years back, according to Carolyn Trezevant, calling 2007 “a very critical year for the library.”

With the formation of a cooperative library committee comprised of representatives from the city, university, school district and public library, they’ve been able to look at ways to collaborate and build partnerships to enhance the library.

In 2008, Gayle Gordon was hired as library director and the library began to raise its profile, becoming a member of the Commerce Chamber of Commerce. A strategic planning process was also started, addressing finances, facilities, governance, programs, marketing and staffing.

“We are good stewards of our resources and we want to extend that stewardship to our home of 40 years. Our relationship with the city, our landlord, and the major source of funding has been positive. We thank them for their support and we recognize their financial limitations,” Trezevant said.

She went on to thank all individuals and service clubs that have made donations to the library.

The Commerce Public Library offers a variety of services such as computers with internet access, books and audio books, a children’s book collection, DVDs, copies, fax, notary and passport applications. Programs include GED classes, basic literacy tutors, ESL (English as a Second Language), pre-school story time, a summer reading club and genealogy workshops.

The next meeting as part of the “Save the Library” campaign is scheduled for June 7 at 5:30 p.m. from City Hall. Everyone is encouraged to bring a friend and fill the house.