When the Delaware County District Library's board of trustees hired SHP as the architecture firm for the design of its new library off Home Road in Powell, one of the reasons cited was the firm's commitment to community engagement during the design process.

That engagement began in earnest last week with three public forums designed to solicit feedback from community members on what types of services and spaces they'd like to see in the new library.

The library plans to begin construction on the facility next summer and hopes to open it by summer 2021, officials said. It will be located at Middlebury Crossing, a 11.7-acre mixed-use development at Home and Steitz roads.

Delaware County voters' renewal of a 1-mill operating levy in November 2018 will allow the new 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot library to be built, officials said.

At the heart of last week's public forums -- held in Powell, Liberty Township and Ostrander -- was an interactive, dynamic Q&A in which attendees responded to topics using their smartphones.

Questions addressed topics such as how patrons use the library (length of time per visit, programming and spaces most often used); the idea of quiet space versus active space; and natural lighting and other philosophical concerns and amenities, including fireplace, cafe and meeting-space preferences.

The presentation also addressed demographics and the use of space; technology issues, including desktop computers and Wi-Fi (the latter strongly requested by those who attended the Dec. 2 gathering in Powell); gardens and outdoor programming (both broadly supported by attendees); and less-traditional library functions.

Those functions could include musical-instrument rental, cooking and audio recording spaces, and a makerspace concept, where tools and technology, including 3D printers and sewing machines, could help all kinds of makers.

Shea McMahon, SHP's Columbus office director, said he knows of people who run full Etsy businesses from their local libraries.

A final slide asked attendees to "briefly describe your vision for a new library." The most popular responses included "classic" and "inviting."

The gatherings also held opportunities for verbal feedback from attendees, but McMahon said this method of engagement helps ensure greater participation.

"Sometimes, in community forums, the most willing or loudest voices can drive the conversation. This method gives everyone an equal voice," he said. "We want to ensure it's designed with every user in mind."

McMahon said some organizational work remains to be done with the feedback from the sessions but added he was overall "pleased with the quality and thoughtfulness of the comments."

"The library, from day one, wanted us to understand and learn from the community," said Jeffrey Sackenheim, SHP's lead architect on the project. "Before we even started designing anything, we wanted to talk with the public about services, amenities and features of the new library.

"These buildings serve as centers for communities. If designed and built well, they will serve the community for a long time."

McMahon said he expects the gathering process to conclude soon and design to begin early in the new year.

While the library will be in the city of Powell -- the land was annexed into the city from Liberty Township by Powell City Council in July, following approval from county commissioners in April -- it will not, library leaders reinforced, replace the current Powell branch.

Library director George Needham said the library intends to purchase the portion of the land in the development on which the new library will sit from developer John Wicks.

The cost of the project is anticipated to be $7.5 million, not counting the cost of the land purchase.

Library board members have interviewed candidates to serve as construction manager and expect to hear recommendations from its evaluation committee during its Tuesday, Dec. 17, meeting at the Orange branch.

In addition to the new library, Wicks plans two 7,000-square-foot retail spaces and 68 townhomes and garden apartments at Middlebury Crossing.

The final development plan calls for the two commercial buildings to rise on the southwest side of the property along Home Road, with a rental residential community on the north side, according to Powell spokeswoman Megan Canavan.

The library will go before City Council and the city's planning and zoning commission with a separate development plan, she said.

Residents can leave feedback on the new library at delawarelibrary.org/mylibrary, where updates about the project also are being posted.

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