The Wright Memorial Public Library is a destination for lifelong learning, where community members of all ages come for information, enjoyment, education, and personal growth. Because Wright Library serves the Oakwood community independently, rather than as a part of Dayton Metro Library or another library system, its services are tailored to the unique needs and interests of Oakwood residents.
Wright Library is also one of the most used libraries in America, ranking in the top 1% nationally when compared to libraries of similar size and earning it a 4-Star rating in 2018 by Library Journal. This distinction is both a testament to the value the community places on education as well as the value of the services and collections the library offers.
This past August marked the one year anniversary of the completion of a historic renovation of the original 1939 Wright Library building. We’d like to take this time to share with the community the rest of the building’s story.
Our Building’s History
Eighty years ago, community leaders had the foresight to strengthen the community with a new library building located in the heart of Oakwood, and Orville Wright, who served on the Library’s Board of Trustees, personally underwrote the campaign to pass a bond issue to support it. With its Tudor architecture, stained glass windows, and original wood shelving, Wright Library is a registered historic landmark and a reminder that Oakwood is steeped in history and tradition, as well as a unique place to live and learn.
As the Oakwood community grew over time, so did Wright Library. Additions to the original 1939 library building were constructed in 1964, 1972, and 1983 to meet the growing needs of the community. These additions provided more space for collections, a children’s area, and a community room for large library programs and group meeting space. The last major library renovation was in 1991, when the audiovisual room was added, with a lower level circulation desk and rear entrance for the public. Paint, new carpet and bookshelf endcaps were also added.
In 2008, Ohio libraries were hit hard with large decreases in state funding caused by the recession. Wright Library’s state funding was cut by more than $250,000 from 2008 to 2009, which caused a reduction in staffing and operating hours. In Oakwood, voters responded by passing a small 0.5 mill library operating levy in 2009. While the levy only partially offset the state funding loss, the library focused its resources on services, collections, and programs that directly benefit its patrons, and operating hours were finally fully able to be restored in 2014. Facility needs were put on the back burner with only essential repairs and maintenance being addressed. Although Ohio’s economy eventually rebounded, the state library funding was never restored and Wright Library has continued to operate to this day with less revenue than in the years before the recession.
In 2016, the library board and administration felt it was time to address building needs and sought a bond issue to provide a full renovation of the library, including a small expansion. Following the bond issue’s narrow failure to secure a majority of the community’s support, the library did not return to the ballot but instead undertook a months-long communications and research process to engage and listen deeply to Oakwood residents and identify the community’s priorities for their library. Those priorities included: continue to offer great materials and programs, make resources more accessible to the disabled and elderly, focus on early literacy, offer tech instruction, preserve the building’s historic architecture, scale back building plans, and seek private funds to help reduce facility costs.
Taking the community’s input to heart, by 2017, the library successfully raised nearly half a million dollars in private donations and grants – including $250,000 from the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation -- to complete a historic restoration and renovation project of the 1939 portion of the building.
The project restored the historic reading rooms, added meeting space that allows for technology classes, reduced operating costs with energy-efficient lighting, and improved usability of the space. In all, about 3,500 square feet, or about 17% of the building was renovated. The community response has been overwhelmingly positive, and residents have expressed renewed pride in this historic gem.
Wright Library’s Facility Needs
While the historic part of the building received a much-needed facelift in 2018 and makes a great first impression when coming through the front door, infrastructure issues for the remainder of the building still need to be addressed and have grown with time. Among these are outdated and inefficient HVAC units and climate control, an aging roof and elevator, and drainage and moisture issues. Additionally, inefficient lighting and carpet that is worn out from nearly 30 years of use need replaced. Total cost of infrastructure repairs and replacements are estimated to cost in excess of $1 million.
- HVAC System Replacement – Many components are obsolete or in “fair” condition and will need to be replaced in the next three years; airflow should be updated for better comfort and to meet today’s standards.
- Elevator modernization – Current elevator is nearing obsolescence, meaning replacement parts will become unavailable. The elevator will need to be modernized in the next one to three years.
- Roof replacement – The library’s two flat roofs are nearing end of lifespan, with increasing number of leaks and higher repair costs annually. Roof replacement is recommended within the next 4 years.
- Drainage issues – Moisture issues in the lower level require running three dehumidifiers 24/7, cause an unpleasant damp odor, and prevent using the space for books.
- Carpet replacement – Carpet throughout most of the upper level is nearly thirty years old and badly needs replaced. In addition to the cost of the carpet, this will require moving all of the library’s books and shelving.
- Modernized lighting – Existing lighting is inefficient and many fixtures are cracked and need to be updated with LED lighting throughout the building.
- Exterior repairs – The building is in need of cleaning, tuckpointing and sealing to maintain the integrity of the brick exterior.
To be efficient with limited resources, in early 2019, the library engaged an architect design team to look into ways to pair these needed repairs and replacements with modest updates to better meet the needs of today’s library users – while working within the existing building footprint. The architect was tasked with creating a facility plan that could be accomplished in stages, and in addition to resolving the infrastructure needs, would include:
- Updating Children and Teen areas
- For children, lower, kid-friendly shelves and more opportunities for educational play.
- For teens, a dedicated computer area separate from adult computing areas and comfortable places to study with easy power access.
- For adults, effective noise control between active kid and teen areas, flexible meeting spaces, and creative and business tools.
- Updating spaces for technology and workforce needs
- Effective noise control between adult spaces and kid and teen areas
- Flexible meeting spaces
- Creative and business tools
- Improving accessibility
- ADA and family-friendly restrooms
- Updated parking and walkways
- Re-opening the back entrance
- Improving efficiency and reducing operating costs
- Better security
- Energy-efficient lighting
- Considering the feasibility and return on investment of solar panels
The architect team reviewed the 2016 community research and worked closely with library staff in a series of work sessions to gather more input about the building needs and patron expectations that are not being currently met. Initial design concepts were presented to the Board of Trustees at a public meeting in late summer. Trustees and staff provided feedback on options presented, and the planning will continue over the next several months, with opportunities for community feedback to ensure that we safeguard this legacy and continue to offer community-tailored library and affordable library services in Oakwood for generations to come.