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June 19, 2021

Spirit of Rowan: School’s media center finds new life as public library

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

The new West Branch of Rowan Public Library is almost ready to open, making use of the former Cleveland Elementary School auditorium and media center.

Library Director Melissa Oleen says construction should be completed by the end of this month, with the library opening set for May.

“The main thing (about the West Branch) is that it is a complete library. Sometimes in branches, not all the services are available, but this one will have everything you can get at headquarters” library in Salisbury, Oleen said.

The West Branch will offer wireless printing, print books, computer labs for adults and children, a children’s area and special programming. There will be free Wi-Fi access on the grounds and broadband internet in the library.

The library will have five staff members, a professional librarian with a master’s degree, a full-time branch associate, two part-time associates and a part-time page.

Oleen says the library will be open 40 hours a week, most notably on Sundays, when the other branches are closed.

“I felt it was important to have one library location open on Sunday,” she says.

She envisions students using Sunday afternoons for homework at the library and for families to have time together.

The library will use some shelving from Cleveland Elementary’s media center in the children’s area as well as new, metal shelving. It will have a green color theme, “because when I think of West Rowan, I think green, things growing, farms,” Oleen says.

The library and a meeting room will be connected by a lobby with restrooms and a small kitchen. The auditorium will be separated into three rooms, the largest of which will seat 150 people. The other rooms will hold 25-30 people, with tables in those rooms.

The branch will have modern furnishings, study tables, comfortable reader seating and space in the children’s area for adults and children to sit.

The book collection will be brand new, with no book more than two years old. A few exceptions will be some classics from the past. The trend in libraries now, Oleen said, is to focus on popular materials. The branch will have books for children, juveniles, young adults, large print and non-fiction.

The branch will be about the same size as the East branch in Rockwell, but it will all be on one level. The library portion will be about 3,400 square feet, with the auditorium around 5,000 feet, plus a lobby/restroom area.

Oleen said she is thinking about having a local artist paint a mural in the children’s room and using photos of the area in the lobby, depicting West Rowan life.

The library is still seeking monetary donations. Oleen said book donations won’t necessarily remain at the West Branch.

To make the media center-to-library transition possible, the town of Cleveland donated $100,000, the Rowan Public Library Foundation pitched in $200,000 and the Friends of Rowan Public Library gave $15,000, with other gifts totaling around $25,000. Rowan County government is funding the bulk of the project.

Oleen said the 1927 building was in pretty good shape, just lacking some insulation in the auditorium, but there have been no major construction problems other than frequent rain.

Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects designed the project, and the contractor is Vertex Construction Co. LLC. Both are Rowan County firms.

In addition to the library, meeting rooms and auditorium, the West Branch will have a park that was the playground and green space around Cleveland Elementary. The library will maintain the space. Already, it has a basketball court and some swings. It will be a place for families to enjoy, and the library may let children check out various balls to play in the park.

West Branch will have a special, limited edition library card, featuring a photo of the new branch on the front.

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