Portage County library embarks on its biggest expansion in decades

Signs in the lobby of the Aurora Memorial Library. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

After narrowly passing a landmark levy, the Portage County District Library is expanding services throughout Portage County and will soon open a new branch in Brimfield in partnership with the township.

Brimfield Township trustees used American Rescue Plan money to buy the building at 4286 Kelso Drive on Aug. 15 for $468,000. Formerly a day care center, the interior of the building will be totally remodeled before it opens in early or mid-2023.

Library Director Jon Harris envisions story times, book discussions, author talks, crafting and genealogy programs, and other services patrons might suggest. The branch will be open 48 hours a week, he said.

“We are excited for the opportunity. This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it,” Harris said.

“It’s going to be a nice addition to Brimfield,” Trustee Mike Kostensky said. “For seniors it’s a good place to get together, and it’s a good place for kids to get reading hour. … I truly believe it’s a big part of a community. A lot of people say you can get everything online, but it’s not the same. You don’t get the one-on-one and that kind of stuff.”

Brimfield opened a library branch in 2000, but beset by dwindling funding it closed in March 2011. When the new building’s remodeling is complete, 75% of the space will be dedicated to the library, and 25% will be used for a community room where Brimfield Parks and Rec can offer programming, Kostensky said. 

“This is an improvement for our growing community,” Trustee Nic Coia said. “Libraries are more than books. Libraries are access to information and networking for all ages.”

When county voters passed a 10 year, 1-mill operating levy in November 2021, the district library found itself with an influx of some $3 million a year.

“It effectively doubled our budget,” Harris said. “Before that, the only money we got was from the state.”

Passing the library levy also means the Aurora, Garrettsville and Streetsboro branches will be open 56 hours a week instead of 40, and the Randolph and Windham branches will be open 48 hours instead of 25.

The library system has already hired about a dozen staff and will hire more when the Brimfield branch opens, Harris said.

“It’s going to be an investment for us, but it’s a worthwhile investment,” Harris said. “We wanted to be sure everybody got something out of the levy because after all, they paid for it.”

The library will also bring back its bookmobile, a service that had to be dropped about 20 years ago to save money.

“Our intent is for it to make regular stops in communities that don’t have a branch,” Harris said.

That means Southeast school district, Rootstown, the Mantua-Crestwood area and Nelson, he said. The Nelson stop will especially benefit Amish and Mennonite patrons who now must travel to Garrettsville.

The plan is that the bookmobile would be stocked with a regular rotation of books as it makes its biweekly rounds, he said. And since bookmobiles are small, “We can tailor the collection to wherever we’re going.”

After so many years of budgetary belt tightening, Harris is glad to have some good news.

“Sometimes I feel like the dog that caught the car, and now has to learn how to drive,” he grinned. “This is likely the largest expansion in 50 years.”

+ posts

Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.