Gary library board discusses ideas for museum to replace Main Branch
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent October 2, 2011 7:50PM
The library board voted 4-3 Tuesday March 29, 2011 to close the main branch of the Gary Public Library on 5th Avenue. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:11AM
GARY — As the closing of the Gary Public Library’s Main Branch on 5th Ave. looms large, a local attorney last week began floating plans to keep the building from becoming another empty eyesore on Gary’s streets.
Initial talk of the South Shore Museum and Cultural Center, or SSMAC, also raised issues of who would work on a rehab project.
Attorney Tony Walker, president of the Gary Public Library Board of Trustees, unveiled his ideas for the SSMAC at a recent board meeting, describing it as giving new life to the Main Branch.
“Other than the (South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau) Dillinger museum, what museums are there, really, that are celebrating life in Northwest Indiana?” Walker said. “There’s a lot of possibility both locally and tapping into national traveling exhibitions and projects.”
The SSMAC would include income-generating attractions such as a cyber cafe and bookstore, a revamped auditorium and meeting rooms available for rental and plenty of space for admission fee-based exhibitions. Discussions are also underway to make room for the Calumet Region archives, based at Indiana University-Northwest, and other historical collections in the area, Walker said.
The library board earlier this year voted to close the Main Branch due to crippling drops in property tax revenue and the amount of money, mostly in personnel costs, to operate the structure. The building now leaks air like a sieve and is prone to flooding.
The upfront rehab costs could take up about $2 million of the system’s roughly $4 million in cash reserves, Walker estimated.
The question of who would do such work also was discussed at the board meeting, where a policy promoting Gary businesses and workers in public works projects was discussed. The proposed policy would require businesses to hire Gary residents to make up two-thirds of any workforce working on library projects.
Walker and three members, Jonathan Boose, Cynthia Watts and Rayfield Fisher, who tend to form a majority voting bloc with Walker, tried to get the board to drop the normal rules and treat the initial reading of a local hiring policy as the third and final reading.
“I think it’s a great idea we invest in our community, especially those taxpayers that live in the city,” said Boose, the newest member of the board.
Members Paula Nalls and Sadie Sheffield voted against the idea, and member Nancy Valentine did not attend the meeting. The move for a third reading died for lack of a super majority, as required.
“I believe there’s no rush on this,” said Nalls. “What’s the urgency?”
It wasn’t that Nalls didn’t support the policy, she said. The library board tried to enact a similar policy five years ago, but the State Board of Accounts raised red flags on any policy that shows preferential treatment to contractors based on where they’re located.
Gary mayoral candidate Karen Freeman-Wilson and Walker have reached out to the SBA for an opinion on the hiring policy, she said.
“One could argue the policy is not prohibited, but we want (the SBA) to take a look at it,” Freeman-Wilson said.