New look: Dowagiac District Library welcomes guests with grand opening ceremony

DOWAGIAC — A journey more than 10 years in the making concluded Saturday afternoon in front of 211 Commercial St. in downtown Dowagiac.

It was there where the Dowagiac District Library hosted the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated facility in front of its restored Carnegie Library facade.

Library director Matthew Weston welcomed those in attendance before presenting speakers that included district library chair Judy Lawrence, Miller-Davis project manager Jennifer Sawyer and Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons.

“It’s spectacular,” Lyons said. “This is a big city library, not a small town library. What you’re going to see when you go through it today, you have to be impressed by the level of thought that was given to it, the execution of that vision and the library that we now have that will represent us for another hundred years. Thank you for all of your support. This couldn’t have happened without you.”

According to Weston, the groundwork for the library renovations was laid roughly 10 years ago when the library’s board of directors began saving extra operating money left over at the end of each year. A millage passed in November 2018 gave the library a $7.4 million bond over 20 years for the expansion and renovation of the building.

“After that, it was off to the races,” Weston said. “I’m just really looking forward to developing collections and programs with this new building.”

Following the ribbon-cutting, Weston and the library staff opened the doors of the Commercial Street entrance to guests for the first time.

Guests were presented with free DDL tote bags upon entering the original wing of the library, which houses the teen and local history sections. It also has three study rooms guests can reserve for study groups.

Across from the teen section is the extended wing, where youth services are located. The space features children’s books, reading areas and a room dubbed the “SPARK Room” for children’s programs. The floor features both a staircase and an elevator that takes guests to the main floor of the building. 

The first floor includes a community room, a kitchen area, study rooms and a fireplace area. In addition, it also features one of two computer stations the library will host.

A quiet room is located in the back of the first floor, which includes one of the five original solid oak tables that have been in the library since its inception more than 100 years ago.

“We have reservable meeting rooms, study rooms and lots of larger collections to browse,” Weston said. “We even have a conferencing system that’s going in one of the study rooms so that people can have professional business meetings.”

Dozens of guests toured the new facility and enjoyed what they saw.

“It’s very lovely,” said Dowagiac resident Norm Burns. “I think it’s very well-organized and a beautiful building. It has a lot of history and a lot of good things for the children and everyone should be happy.”

Burns believes the new and improved library will be an asset to the community. 

“People will come just to observe it and see it on the outside and in. It’s not only an asset to the city but to the greater Dowagiac community as well,” he said.

Weston was happy with the community response to the library and thanked his staff for their hard work during the construction and renovation process, which included relocating books and shelving to the extended wing while the original wing was under construction while adjusting on the fly to the ongoing pandemic.

“They rolled with all the changes,” he said. “The past year and a half has been a constant change and we tried to stay open to the public that entire time. In fact, we did stay open to the public with the exception of a few weeks there with COVID. I think the staff just really did a great job dealing with everything.”

The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Community members who missed the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be able to enjoy the opening day experience all week with what Weston is referring to as Grand Opening Week.

In an effort to ease library traffic on opening day, the library will host tours and distribute items throughout the week to allow for social distancing.

“People can kind of come at their own convenience,” he said. “We can give them tours and the book bags. We have things to hand out that whole week for people to see and do.”

A pavilion co-financed by the City of Dowagiac was also completed on the library campus. The space will be used by the city for summer concerts and by the library for programming.

The final chapter of the library’s restoration process has been completed, but for Weston and the Dowagiac community, the library’s new adventure is about to unfold.

“This is basically where we’re starting,” Weston said. “It’s really exciting to see where we’re gonna head in the next five to 10 years.”

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