A library is a key focal point for every New Zealand town but Ōpōtiki residents are in desperate need of a new one.
For the past 10 years the old facility has been plagued by problems including black mould, a leaky roof and earthquake concerns. “It was built in the 1960s so we’ve had a good 50 years out of it. But even at the time we started having these issues, it was already too small because our amazing library staff had worked hard to increase membership and the place was thriving,” explains Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer.
While most New Zealanders are well-equipped with technology and have good internet access, many Ōpōtiki locals cannot afford such luxuries. So aside from lending books, the library has become a genuine community hub where people can use laptops to interact with the outside world.
“We actually see on a daily basis how important the library hub is to our community,” Lyn says. “I think it’s an asset that we’ve under-valued for quite some time.
“A lot of people come into the library for help with their CVs or correspondence of any sort. Even at quite basic levels, the library is working really hard to help with a lot of education around technology. That needs to be expanded to help us all catch up. I think that will be a great part of our new community hub.”
‘Elegant’ New Design
Plans for a new 712m² facility have been drawn up and the local community has risen to the fundraising challenge, holding art exhibitions, garage sales, quiz nights and even baking stalls to help raise the $4.6m required. A total of $3.1m will come from ratepayers as a result, and several significant grants from funding agencies will carry the project over the line.
BayTrust will contribute $300,000 from its Community Amenities Fund and the Lotteries Communities Facilities Fund has pledged another $400,000, allowing construction of the ‘Te Tahuhu o Te Rangi - Technology & Research Centre’ to get underway in the first half of 2020.
“I really like the design. It reflects the biculturalism in our area. To me it looks like a very elegant, grand wharenui. It’s a single story building but it will have wonderfully high ceilings. We’re so excited to finally get underway.”
News of the BayTrust and Lotteries grants were received just before Christmas and were a genuine thrill for Lyn and her fellow library fundraising advocate, Deputy Mayor Shona Browne.
“We are extremely grateful and really pleased that BayTrust has seen the value of what we’re trying to do for our community. To me it’s always a positive vote of confidence in what we’re trying to achieve.”
BayTrust is the best to work with. They really understood our project and the nature of our district and they were super supportive. It was a really nice process to go through.”
Options On Offer
Ōpōtiki District Council’s Corporate Planner and Executive Officer, Sarah Jones, is managing the library rebuild and is excited about the opportunities the new building will provide.
“The library is currently running out of a rented building and that building isn’t big enough to house the entire collection so they’ve got quite a lot stored off site… but what this building will allow us to do is to really build on the services that go around the collection of books, so we will offer a lot more in terms of programmes and training.”
Sarah says technology will be a major focus, teaching locals how to use and make the most of digital devices. “There’s a lot of evidence in our district that there’s a real need for that – access to computers, technology and internet connections.” Other suggestions for new services include a toy library and more youth programmes.
Lyn adds that one of the most popular aspects of Ōpōtiki’s original library service was creative school holiday programmes. “We haven’t been able to run those because of the lack of room in our temporary building so our library staff are very keen to get back to that.”
The original library building on the main street will soon be demolished so the new facility can be rebuilt on the same site. Any new services will be designed with future expansion in mind, particularly up the coast to the more rural parts of the Ōpōtiki district.
“We’re looking at the possibility of having a mobile library service in future that has technology around it as well such as taking laptops down for people to work on,” Lyn says. “I’m very keen, as Mayor, that the whole district benefits from this.”