220 W. Clinton Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
Now this is a school library. Okay, more precisely, it's a school turned into a public library. And what a library it is. The story begins over 85 years ago in the charming northern Michigan tourist town of Charlevoix, Michigan. In 1927 a grade school and gymnasium was built which served the local children for more than 70 years, beginning as a K-8 school, then becoming a K-12 school, and in the 60's--a middle school. The campus was later abandoned after a new middle school was built in 2004. Luckily, it wasn't abandoned for long.
It seems the community was in need of a larger library space. Using this vintage school building could not only provide the needed space, but could preserve a bit of Charlevoix history and enhance the neighborhood as well. The property was acquired by the Downtown Development Authority, a millage was passed, and the whole community became involved, sharing ideas to make the library a useful and beautiful place. The new library project was completed in 2006, after just three years from start to finish. Amazing what can be accomplished when a community comes together.
I was impressed with the place before I even entered the building. The neatly landscaped grounds are punctuated with unique sculptures and benches for outdoor seating, and a brick-paved walkway leads to the main door.
Once inside, the first thing visitors will notice is the large mural positioned high over the foyer. Created by Michigan artist, Charles Thompson, it colorfully depicts life in Charlevoix in the 1920's when the original school was built.
What was once the gym has been grandly restored and now houses the adult collections. It was here that I caught up with Judith Ivan, one of the librarians. She provided me with more details about the renovation. At one point during its history as a gymnasium and performance center, the large windows and ceiling of this room had been partially covered to save energy. Great care was taken during the renovation to retain the original charm and character of the space. The impressive old ceiling remains, having required only cleaning and paint touch ups.
The old school's original kindergarden has been turned into a periodical reading room complete with cozy wingback chairs and a restored fireplace. Judith mentioned that much of the original oak woodwork has been restored and repurposed throughout the building as well.
Teens have their own lounge at the new library. In addition to a comfy seating area for just hanging out, teens can also enjoy computers with Internet, books, study guides, and graphic novels. Organized activities, like clubs and game days, are held in this area too.
As you might expect in a vintage school, imaginative spaces abound for the little ones. Woodsy and nautical themes are everywhere. One room includes a boat puppet theater. And fiberglass trees are sprinkled throughout the kids area, some with hollowed-out nooks for sitting, and some serving as computer stations. I noticed that one tree had several backpacks hanging from it, each one containing a book and a variety of activities to go along with it. Some also include a video. These reading/activity backpacks can be checked out by kids and their parents. What a great way to promote reading!
Everywhere there are elements of the old school building that have been repurposed. Original tiles have been restored and used around a drinking fountain. Chairs that once provided seating for sports fans in the gym have been restored and used in the hallway leading to the children's area. And beams that were once a part of the school's theater stage have been used as part of the lighthouse-inspired oculus in the dome of the youth activity center.
The new Charlevoix Public Library is more than simply a library. It is a community center featuring various meeting rooms used for activities and events for all ages. At the time of my visit, one such room, complete with a full kitchen, was being used for a quilting class. Story time, clubs, craft shows, and informational seminars fill the activity calendar for this remarkable library.
Judith assured me that community members make good use of the space. And why not? It's beautifully renovated, well thought out, and designed to not just look wonderful, but to serve the public in a variety of ways. If you're ever in the Charlevoix area, this library is worth a visit.
Well done, Charlevoix!