Fundraising campaign kicks off for McAlester Public Library

Nov. 30—Michael Hull said a massive renovation project will make a library the community's living room.

The Southeast Oklahoma Library System executive director told a crowd gathered Tuesday night at McAlester Public Library that a renovation project will turn into a state-of-the-art facility for everyone to enjoy.

"We're going to remodel this building; we're going to completely transform it and make this library into something that you and your family are proud of for the next 50 or more years," Hull said.

But the project will need some community help.

SEOLS offers a bevy of services across southeast Oklahoma — serving MPL, public libraries in Hartshorne and Quinton, assisting a volunteer library in Kiowa, and much more.

The Puterbaugh Foundation, the Southeast Oklahoma Library System and the city of McAlester each pledged $1.5 million toward the project. Those entities pledged $300,000 per year over the next five years to make those payments.

Puterbaugh Foundation Chairman Steven Taylor, former McAlester mayor and retired Oklahoma Chief Supreme Court Justice, said several unsuccessful attempts to replace or move the library in the past decade won't stop momentum for this campaign.

"This is going to happen this time," Taylor said. "The time is right, we're committed to it, and this is important."

Taylor shared memories of reading biographies in the former Carnegie Library and how librarian Felicia Dwyer treated patrons with kindness.

He said the city needs a place to offer library services to citizens, offer a place for some people to escape the weather, a place for people to read books and access computers, and more.

"The commitment to this library is strong," Taylor said. "The Puterbaugh Foundation will be there for this cause and the Puterbaugh Foundation will be there for public education."

McAlester Mayor John Browne said he supports the library expansion because it will promote education.

"I believe that education is a big equalizer in society," Browne said. "You can be the poorest kid in the world, you can get an education and have upward mobility. And the biggest driver in education is curiosity and what a library does is a home for curiosity."

MPL offers an entrepreneurial database with various professional courses throughout the year, cutting edge programing, and expanded services in recent years.

SEOLS recently added a 30-feet-long Bookmobile to serve even more communities with scheduled stops that can serve more than 100 per day.

The system's website, SEOLibraries.com, provides access to downloadable music, movies, magazines, newspapers and more.

Hull said the 2019 study revealed "three-quarters of the people we talked to wanted us to transform this building" — so officials got to work.

Officials noted some recent updates at the library — new paint, roof work and more — but said the facility's electrical, lighting and plumbing will be updated, among a bevy of modernizations in the massive project.

Hull said results from the study helped focus the plan moving forward — and he credited staff for making changes to update and expand services to better suit the community.

Tulsa-based KKT Architects, Inc. drew up plans to increase the library's square footage with meeting rooms, study rooms, shared workspace areas, and more in a state-of-the-art facility.

Additional meeting rooms will host from four to 120 people — including one of the project's features with an outdoor terrace overlooking the city's north. Hull said the conference room will be available after hours and offer a great setting.

"You won't have a prettier view of the town," Hull said.

Friends of the McAlester Public Library played an instrumental role in the process — purchasing two properties on the north side of the library that will be cleared for parking expansion for the project.

Plans call for a new main entrance on the building's north side, with a second-level terrace overlooking the multi-level parking lot and the north landscape.

Inside the main entrance will be a reception area, elevators and new Learning Stairs — with stairways on either side of theater-type seating where some children's classes and presentations can be held.

Another part of the plans is the expanded services the library already started to implement.

"The staff take a lot of credit for that for modernizing services; making things more relevant to the community; making it more welcoming and friendly to come into; making sure people know this isn't just a library for kids, this isn't a library just for people who are hard on their luck — this is a library for everyone and we have things for everyone," Hull said.

SEOLS representatives recently requested the Pittsburg County commissioners contribute $500,000 toward the project — in the form of $100,000 per year over the next five years. Commissioners have yet to vote on the request.

Hull said the next milestone in the project will be getting a commitment from a fourth partner on the project that would bring the campaign total to $6 million — and working on community pledges to get the remaining $3 million.

"Once we get close to that, we'll start talking with the bank more about the details for financing and then we'll get with the city and our architect to narrow everything down and get it out for bids," Hull said.

Anyone interested in learning more and contributing to the project can talk with staff members at the McAlester Public Library.

Officials said any donation will help toward the goal.

"We want this to be truly a community library we want each citizen to be able to to say 'I had a part in this,'" Hull said. "We want kids to grow up and be able to say 'I helped build my library.'"

Managing editor James Beaty contributed to this report.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com