West Newton officials hope library can reopen soon

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West Newton officials hope the town's library can be reopened within a couple months.

The Women's Club of West Newton has run the library since 1939, but closed it at the end of May because the club had difficulty finding new library board members in recent years and revenues were not meeting expenses.

West Newton Councilman Chris Luikart had hoped the library could stay open this summer because the borough was willing to chip in some funding and new residents had stepped up to help. The library's summer reading program had been popular with borough youth.

But Mr. Luikart said a transfer of the library's nonprofit status from the old library board to a new independent board did not happen as expected.

He said he discussed the transfer procedure with his former auditing firm and learned that the organization's bylaws could be amended, with old board members resigning and new board members appointed, and checks and names on a bank account changed.

He's still hopeful that might occur, but if it doesn't, the new board will have to wait to receive approval from the Internal Revenue Service for its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Once that nonprofit status is established, the new board can begin fundraising.

Council members recently met with old and new board members and a representative of the countywide library network to discuss the problem.

"We need to show the Westmoreland Library Network that we have a 12-month plan to make the library stable," he said. "And I can understand their position. Then, the network will return the computer software for ordering books and the book barcode scanner."

Joining the network allows borough residents to borrow from the 788,000 items in 24 libraries in the county, including e-books, CDs and DVDs.

Nancy Gresko, director of the Westmoreland Library Network, said, "I'm hoping they can reopen, but they need a dedicated source of funding. We'll do anything we can to help."

She said the county network, which receives county and state funds, had given the library the system computer software and bar code scanner, and that it would be returned to the library when the network board approved a reasonable business plan to keep the library open.

"We're hoping that they can reopen soon," she said, "but in the meantime, residents can use the Rostraver Library, which is only a couple miles away."

The West Newton library does not qualify for state funds, which require a certain level of local funding, hours of operation and new collection purchases.

The borough owns and maintains the two-story, 1850 building on Water Street where the library is located.

Mr. Luikart said library expenses for 2011 were about $14,000 and revenues were $11,000.

He said the new library board has several good ideas for fundraisers -- such as a car cruise. With the tight borough budget, council could not allocate $15,000 a year to keep the library open, he said.

The library had been open 20 hours a week with one paid staffer, the librarian, and five volunteers.

Librarian Deborah McCallister said the library had 463 registered card holders from the borough of approximately 3,000 residents.

At this point, borough officials are not interested in merging with a nearby library.

Mr. Luikart said, "My thought is if you combine with another library, you lose your identity. I think we can operate it independently."

He said he was encouraged by the number of residents who volunteered to be on the new board and others who want to help raise funds.

neigh_east - neigh_south - neigh_westmoreland

Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published June 28, 2012 5:00 AM


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