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June 21, 2010

Officials vying for grant to fund library

Money would also go toward wetlands observatory

TERRE HAUTE — Local officials plan to apply for a federal grant to help build a facility that would house a West Terre Haute library branch, a Wabashiki Wetlands Observatory and an Indiana Department of Natural Resources office.

The Vigo County Public Library Board approved the concept Monday and gave permission to move forward with the grant proposal.

Terry Jones of West Central Indiana Economic Development District will write the grant proposal to the federal office of Community and Rural Affairs. Up to $500,000 could be available for the project, said Nancy Dowell, director of the Vigo County Public Library.

“Money is available to build public library facilities in rural areas, and West Terre Haute qualifies as a rural area,” Dowell said in an earlier interview.

“For us, it’s certainly a godsend. Our hopes to build a new facility [West Terre Haute branch] faded with implementation of property tax caps.”

The wetlands observatory would also serve as a community meeting room and classroom. The facility would be located along U.S. 40 at Dewey Point in West Terre Haute on property owned by the Vigo County Parks Department.

The building would be owned by the county   (parks department), said Max Miller, who attended as a representative of the Wabashiki wetlands project.

Dowell described the proposal as “just a golden opportunity for West Terre Haute. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to have a new branch library and an observatory” as well as a DNR office to serve the Wabashiki Fish & Wildlife Area, which has grown from a local 7,000-acre project to a much larger state initiative. 

Vigo County commissioners would serve as the grant fiscal agent and grant recipient. It also would be the unit of government to issue bids for construction of the facility, Dowell wrote in a memo to the board.

Those attending Monday’s meeting included Jones, Miller and Earl Rodgers, who has put together a preliminary drawing of the facility. Rodgers’ preliminary concept for the building calls for 4,000 square feet.

The observatory/community meeting room would have floor-to-ceiling windows facing the wetlands.

DNR would have to fund its portion of the building and is working with private funding sources to secure that money, Miller said. The federal grant could not be used to fund the DNR portion of the building, he said.

The federal grant “is only for the library part of it,” Miller said.

The total project cost is preliminarily estimated at $750,000 to $800,000, Miller said.

Jones said local officials must come up with a 10 percent match for the total project cost, not just a match for the $500,000 grant.

Dowell said the library plans to do private fundraising for the local match, and on Monday the library board approved establishment of a “pass through” fund agreement with the Wabash Valley Community Foundation for that purpose.

The “pass through fund” would allow donors to give directly to the foundation, which would invest the money and receive interest dividends.

Dowell also has informed the board that DNR Commissioner Rob Carter has been speaking to a number of Indiana-based foundations to help raise funds for the project.

The library would staff the branch five days a week, 40 hours per week. According to Dowell’s memo, the library would not be charged monthly or annual rent for the facility, but it would be responsible for its share of  utility bills, property, liability and casualty insurance.

Many details have yet to be worked out, and Miller said as the project unfolds that a legal agreement would be necessary to outline various responsibilities in the joint endeavor.

Jones anticipated the federal grant proposal would be submitted in October, and officials would know by early next year whether they receive it.

“Due to high poverty levels in West Terre Haute, the number of points assigned to this grant will be very high and eligibility almost a certainty,” Dowell wrote in the board memo.

Miller is confident that funding will be secured and that the building will be constructed, possibly next year. “I’d bet the Brooklyn Bridge on it,” he said.

The library board listened to a presentation from Miller, Rodgers and Jones at its May meeting.

The project takes on increased importance with the recent announcement by Gov. Mitch Daniels that the state intends to acquire up to 43,000 acres along the Wabash River and Sugar Creek floodplain in west-central Indiana, part of an unprecedented land conservation/wetlands project that will benefit wildlife, public recreation and the environment.

It will be one continuous wildlife habitat, one of the largest in the eastern United States, the governor said.

State officials say they are building upon the local Wabashiki Fish & Wildlife Area, a 7,000-acre project along the Wabash River in West Terre Haute.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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