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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti District Library working toward reopening downtown branch after severe flooding


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Library innovates to serve downtown Ypsi patrons after water damage forces branch closure

Ypsilanti District Library (YDL)

YDL Michigan Avenue Branch Closure Updates


Josh Hakala: You were listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we are going to check in on the Michigan Avenue branch of the Ypsilanti District Library. Today, I am joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the YDL and the comeback the branch is making and other such issues that are going on. Rylee, the last time I saw you, you were an unmarried woman. You've messed around, threw a party, and changed all that.

Rylee Barnsdale: Sure did!

Josh Hakala: So, congratulations! Congratulations and welcome back!

Rylee Barnsdale: Thank you so much! Happy to be back!

Josh Hakala: And joining us in studio is Joy Cichewicz, the branch manager at the YDL's Michigan Avenue branch. Thanks for dropping by.

Joy Cichewicz: Hi.

Josh Hakala: All right. Rylee. Let's talk about the Ypsilanti District Library. It seems like the YDL is always up to something: creating programs, hosting events, programs, you name it. Why did Sarah Rigg report on it this time?

Rylee Barnsdale: Libraries are a huge important hub in any city or community, so when a large branch or a primary branch of a library closes, it has this really big impact on the community it's serving. And Sarah really wanted it to look at how YDL's Michigan Avenue branch is closed due to the flooding that we experienced over the summer and kind of see where YDL is as far as rebuilding and moving things around and making sure folks can still access these really important resources while the library goes under repairs and, you know, theoretically, is going to open up somewhere in the spring of next year.

Josh Hakala: And we'll talk with Joy about the damage to the branch and all that fun stuff. But talk about what seems to be an opportunity to hit the reset button for the library, in terms of their services and the way that they can serve the community.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah. One really cool thing that happened not as a result of the flooding, but sort of around the same time was the funding campaign for YDL's new Superior branch, which has opened another location in addition to their Whittaker location, which gives more folks more opportunities to get to the library, not only to check out books and to read, but also to find community or get access to certain programs or events. You know, you mentioned too how YDL kind of always has something going on. So, it's, I wouldn't say, a blessing in disguise, but it's definitely pushing some more folks that would normally use the Michigan Ave branch over to these other branches, so that they still have access to those resources, even though it might not always be easy to get to those locations.

Josh Hakala: So, Joy, tell us about your role with the YDL and how long you've worked there.

Joy Cichewicz: I am a branch manager, and I've been there since 2008. So, what is that? 15 years? And I love working for YDL, and I love working at downtown.

Josh Hakala: It seems like things, as Rylee mentioned, things were going well for YDL. You had the successful capital campaign to build the new branch in Superior Township. But can you tell us a little bit about that project?

Joy Cichewicz: Lisa Hoenig was great at getting money donated. She got, I believe, over $2 million from donations, in addition to the bond that she had passed. And so, we got some bells and whistles that we would not have gotten without those additional monies, because, from the time of planning this and COVID and all of that, the cost of things and the time it took to build it was quite extended. But she made it happen.

Josh Hakala: We might have to tap her on the shoulder because this is public radio. So, we might need some of that help, too.

Josh Hakala: So, tell us a little bit about what happened on July 1st to the Michigan Avenue branch.

Joy Cichewicz: Oh, my goodness. So, we got a call from our alarm system that the fire alarms were going off. Then, I called them, and I headed out. And it was a big, big storm. The rain was just pouring down. Ypsi Fire Department, they were waiting for me at the door, and they called me on my way and did not bust our doors down. I was grateful. And then, I sloshed through the water to let them in. Our whole first floor was flooded, especially the front of the building.

Josh Hakala: And, luckily, I think you only lost--I think the article said--you had lost about 100 books, but, overall, the vast majority survived?

Joy Cichewicz: Our books were the least of the damage we had. We lost a few graphic novels and youth, some new books in adult, and some picture books in youth. But, yeah, it was less than a hundred books. It was the building that got the big damage.

Josh Hakala: And you're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Joy Cichewicz from the Ypsilanti District Library. And, last month, remediation was completed, and the restoration could begin. And the reality was not only that it was damaged, but the building had some years on it. It used to be the old Carnegie Post Office, and it was badly in need of a makeover. And as devastated as I'm sure the flooding was, you know, as you mentioned, at least most of the books survived. But did you see this is an opportunity to sort of hit the reset button and reassess the community's needs for that space?

Joy Cichewicz: Well, about five years ago, we had done a space-planning study to look at Whittaker Road and Michigan Avenue and what kind of changes might be needed in the future. And so, yeah. We knew that in addition was in line. That's not going to happen with this reset because we need to get back open, but we are able to make some changes in the layout and our furniture and things like that to turn the lemons into lemonade.

Josh Hakala: And, of course, like any homeowner or any insurance commercial on TV will tell you, sometimes things happen, and you have to deal with it. And part of those unexpected problems is that there's not always the funding ready and waiting to deal with it. But what are some of the financial challenges with this? And we'll call it a forced renovation.

Joy Cichewicz: Well, part of the financial challenges that were waiting. You know, we have to make sure the insurance is there. I've gotten a lot of questions about, "Are the taxpayers paying for this?" And this is an insurance claim. And so, everything that's going to be done is going to be mostly paid for by insurance. And we have to wait for the adjuster to get the estimates he needs, so that we can go forward.

Josh Hakala: So, what are some of the ways that you are reimagining the space?

Joy Cichewicz: We are hoping to add a small study room or two. We have some, you know, group study rooms, but one of the things we've missed is having a space for people to study who just want to be alone and study, or they just have one other person that they need to study with. And that's always been an issue. Our building is big and open. And so, a quiet space is not easy to get. We're also hoping to make some changes in our youth department to make it flow better and to give our youth staff who have, at this time, really awful office space that is jerry rigged to try to give them a little real office space and flexible furniture that we can move around for when we have bigger events and be able to easily change the layout of our building interior, so that we can hold a large event and not have heavy, library-quality furniture that we can barely move. So, that's some of the changes I know.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. So, no grand piano that you're going to be lugging around.

Joy Cichewicz: No. No grand pianos. No 300-pound oak tables, I hope. Or at least put them on wheels.

Josh Hakala: Well, I've done plenty of stories on construction projects over the years, and one thing that is consistent is that they are hard to predict. But, at this point, what is your timetable for this project? I mean, there's multiple timetables. It seems like getting open, obviously, is the first priority. But when do you think we could see the branch reopen, and when do you think could see these other changes taking place?

Joy Cichewicz: Well, right now, in the building, all the interior perimeter walls are gutted. They have no drywall, plaster, the flooring is gone. They had to take out several layers of flooring. All the lighting is out. The fire alarm system was totally damaged, some electrical wiring. There's a lot of infrastructure stuff that has to be put back together. We hope that we will be back by June 1st, so we can open for our busiest time, which is during the summer, where we have our annual summer challenge activities going on to keep kids on track. And I'm hoping--that'll make it almost a year by then--but we hope sooner.

Josh Hakala: Did you guys try to apply for one of those, like, reality TV shows where they come in and, like, renovate your space? Did you do anything like that?

Joy Cichewicz: I'll let Lisa know about that. That's probably a great idea.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah. Yeah.

Josh Hakala: My kids and my wife will appreciate that I even mention that because they watch those shows all the time. So, in the meantime, you still have a library branch worth of stuff. How are you managing the branch's books and other materials. And, on top of that, the community is losing the downtown library branch, including space to hold events and other programming, as you mentioned. How are you working to deal with that while you also work to renovate and reopen the branch?

Joy Cichewicz: So, we've continued to do outside programming. We did a lot of garden programming and some outside storytimes. We'll have Halloween Downtown like we've had for, I don't know, 20 years this Friday at 5:30, if you'd like to come. We've got lots of fun stuff. So, we're continuing to do outside things. We've moved our programming all over the community. Some of it's at Whitaker Road Branch. Some of it's at Superior Road Branch. Some of it's at the senior center in Ypsi. Some will be at Riverside Arts. Some is at the Bridge Community Cafe. So, a lot of different businesses and organizations have opened their doors to us, and we are grateful. So, we've kept our programming up to the same level almost that we had before. Our materials are double-wrapped because there was lead paint in the building. Som when they did the demolition, everything that stayed in the building, which is very little. We didn't leave very much in the building, but some of the books, the big bookcases, they double-wrap them. So, we don't have access to any of that. They are shadowed--it's what library lingo is. They're shadowed in our catalog, so that nobody can see them right now because there's nobody working there. There's no staff member there. But we're opening up our after-hour lockers. Those should be running by the end of this week. And so, people can pick up stuff outside through our after-hours locker. We will have daily delivery there. The bookmobile has started parking on Adams Street every Friday, normally from 1 to 5 this week. Because of Halloween, they're going to have the Boomobile there. So, they're going to be running a little later. And so, those two things are in place. We still have outside Wi-Fi, and members of the community are continuing to use our outside while the weather's good or even parking in our parking lot. That's kind of what happened during COVID. And we have external electricity that folks use in the community. When we were open, we were getting 150 to 200 people a day coming in our building. And the loss of that traffic has been hard for the downtown businesses, I think. And so, we definitely wanted to help as much as we can keep our services in downtown.

Josh Hakala: And you also have employees that have been displaced as a result of this. How are you dealing with that?

Joy Cichewicz: We are all moved at the other locations. So, I'm at Whitaker Road right now, and they've all been absorbed. We have three folks that are at Superior, and the rest of them are at Whitaker. We're helping at the other departments, and we're grateful that we're still working.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. I imagine that book reshelving is just instant. There's just so many people. Well, is there a way for people to to help and get involved with this? Or, like, how could people stay updated on the developments with the renovation?

Joy Cichewicz: So, Lisa has done a great job putting updates on our website. Right on the front page, there's updates. And, as things change, we put up pictures, too. We're kind of in the standing spot right now, while we're waiting for the insurance piece to be in place. And there is a capital campaign for donations to make improvements that will be at the end of the year--very shortly. So, if anybody would like to donate towards the Michigan Avenue renovation, I'm sure it would be welcome.

Josh Hakala: I imagine it would be. Joy Cichewicz from the Ypsilanti District Library. And, as always, Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thank you so much for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: If you would like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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