Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
A looming budget shortfall led the Gary Library Board to vote to close its main library and Tolleston branch at the end of this year.
The vote, 4-3, was taken at the board’s Monday meeting. It leaves four branches serving Gary in 2012.
Board president Tony Walker said that the board considered five different options, but this was the most cost effective choice. It afforded the option to keep more branches open and the library wouldn’t have to dip into the $3 million it holds in reserve.
The main library opened in 1964, near the height of the city’s population boom. It was constructed of Indiana limestone at a cost of $2.2 million, and it was the latest in library design, according to the library’s website. Its most outstanding feature was its space — it included an auditorium, conference rooms, two floors for shelving, and a full basement.
“The other four options would have required us to close all of the branches but the main branch,” Walker said. “We had to decide whether we wanted one main branch or to try to be a little more spread out geographically.”
Walker said that a combination of the property tax caps and a decline in tax collections led to more than 60 percent of its budget disappearing — from $6.4 million to $2.5 million.
The main library alone costs $2 million each year to operate, while each branch costs between $200,000 to $500,000.
About 30 employees currently work at the two locations.
Walker said the timing of the decision gives employees several months to look for a new job, and the board will have to negotiate with the union about who will be affected by the closures. He said some planned retirements may lessen the number of people who will be laid off.
Both library collections will be divided up among the remaining branches, and the board is also in discussions with the Gary Community School Corp. and the Boys & Girls Clubs about providing a satellite facility.
“It’s not a popular decision by any stretch of the imagination,” Walker said. “But I felt strongly enough about this to make the motion.”