Murphy Helwig Library expansion complete

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Chris Bee (left) and Heidi Feuerhelm stand in front of Murphy Helwig Library’s new fireplace, one of the many exciting additions from the expansion and renovation project. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Library director Chris Bee said groups have already expressed interest in utilizing the meeting room, which can be accessed without disturbing other parts of the library and even when the library is closed.

On the left side of the building, a young adult area was added. The space boasts several reading chairs and stools, as well as counter space with some trendy purple and green chairs on which to sit.

The counter is unique, in that it’s a dry erase counter, allowing kids to draw, write or work out problems on it with dry erase markers.

A lack of plug-ins was cited as one of the library’s biggest issues when planning for the project began. Outlets are now scattered throughout the library's walls and floors. A charging station was also added.

One of the project’s biggest changes was an addition to the front of the library building, to house the children’s collection and activity area.

The space is three times the square footage of the previous area, allowing for plenty of room for library programming.

The seating works for all—from kids to adults. The furniture is also easy to re-arrange, depending on the day’s needs.

Another update was the addition of a study room in the back right corner, giving people a quiet space to do homework, take tests or fill out job applications.

The library’s welcome area was also re-vamped, to include new furnishings and a fire place, making for a homey atmosphere.

“The fire place is a big hit,” said librarian Heidi Feuerhelm, noting that one person has already fallen asleep there. “We have people sit down and read the paper. It’s a place to hang out instead of just going in and out.”

Other important updates included energy-efficient heating and LED lighting.

A new circulation desk allows staff to see most every area of the library.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

After several years of planning and around eight months of construction, Murphy Helwig Library’s renovation and expansion project is complete.

Library director Chris Bee and librarian Heidi Feuerhelm said patrons have been trickling in to check out the enhancements to the building on North Page Street in Monona, which the library has occupied since 1970.

One of the biggest changes was an addition to the front of the existing building, to house the children’s collection and activity area. The space is three times the square footage of the previous area, said Feuerhelm, allowing for plenty of room for library programming.

“It won’t be crowded when we have summer reading and events,” Feuerhelm said. “There’s space to do it, and we won’t be interrupting anywhere else in the library.”

The area holds several table and chair sets, along with some comfortable reading chairs and some colorful stools that can also be used for seating or as side tables. Feuerhelm said the seating works for all—from kids to adults. It’s also easy to re-arrange, depending on the day’s needs.

“Everything is movable, on rollers,” Bee said. “That makes it easy. We wanted something that was going to last.”

Also part of the expansion was the addition of a meeting room, updated handicap-accessible restrooms and a young adult area on the building’s left side. Two entrances into the library were also created on that side, allowing people to go into either the library or the meeting room.

Bee said groups have already expressed interest in utilizing the meeting room, which can be accessed without disturbing other parts of the library and even when the library is closed. 

“It’s going to be a neat place for people to use,” she noted.

The young adult area is located near the entrance and gives younger library patrons their own space to read or work on their technology devices. In fact, said Feuerhelm, it’s the only space like it in Clayton County. The area boasts several reading chairs and stools, as well as counter space with some trendy purple and green chairs on which to sit. The counter is unique, said Feuerhelm, in that it’s a dry erase counter, allowing kids to draw, write or work out problems on it with dry erase markers.

The library also received many other updates, including a study room in the back right corner, giving people a quiet space to do homework, take tests or fill out job applications. 

A new circulation desk allows Bee and Feuerhelm to see most every area of the library. 

“It’s much more functional,” Bee stated.

The library’s welcome area was also re-vamped, to include new furnishings and a fire place, making for a homey atmosphere.

“The fire place is a big hit,” Feuerhelm said, noting that one person has already fallen asleep there. “We have people sit down and read the paper. It’s a place to hang out instead of just going in and out.”

“They want to sit and stay and enjoy themselves,” Bee added.

Adding to the homey feeling is the addition of a Bunn coffee maker. For a small donation, patrons can sip a coffee, tea or hot chocolate while they read.

Other important updates included energy-efficient heating, LED lighting and adequate electrical receptacles. A lack of plug-ins was cited as one of the library’s biggest issues when planning for the project began.

“So we put plug-ins any place we could think to put them,” Feuerhelm said. “Maybe it was overkill, but you never know.”

Aside from the plug-ins that are scattered on walls and floors throughout the library, a charging station was added, as well. Located near the entrance, the charging station has multiple outlets and a circular counter area that allows people to set their cell phones, tablets or other devices on while they charge.

While some new shelving was added through the project, including special shelves for DVDs and audio books, as well as shelving for new releases in the welcome area, the library was able to re-use its book shelves.

“Our book shelves are in great shape,” said Feuerhelm, explaining that replacing those shelves would have resulted in an additional $250,000 in costs. 

By pairing the old shelves with the new updates, the library “really is a melding of the old and new,” she added.

With work complete, Bee said the library’s coffee house will begin again in March. An open house will be planned for late March or early April, once the donor wall and other signage is in place. Until then, she quipped, “Please come and visit.”

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