Harrison District Library turns a new page

For several years, one of Harrison’s most prominent buildings – one of the last vestiges of the city’s lumbering heyday – sat vacant.

‘It’s the largest thing you see when you pull into Harrison. It sat empty so long it was almost an eyesore,” says Nick Loomis, assistant director and IT director of the Harrison District Library. “The community had a great interest in retaining the building, hoping it would turn into something cool.”

That something cool is the future home of the Harrison District Library, which has outgrown its existing space on Main Street. Thanks to community-wide fund raising and the sweat of its own staff, the Surrey House renovation should be complete in the spring and the Harrison District Library will have a new home.

What’s happening: The Harrison District Library is nearing the final stages of restoring the historic Surrey House in downtown Harrison as its future home. The library purchased the empty house, built in 1880 and last used as a restaurant, in 2016. A fundraising campaign began soon afterward.

The library has outgrown its current space on Main Street in Harrison.

Why the move: It’s simple. Cramped conditions, limited parking and lack of complete handicapped accessibility. The library has outgrown its current space on Main Street, operating in the 5,400-square-foot facility since 1980. The popularity of children’s and other programs, as well as the demand for expanding services has pushed the library to its physical limits. There is little space to display and store important Harrison historical documents as well as expand its children and teen book collections.  “A library is not just about books anymore – it’s about technology, WiFi, programming and what we can offer the community that will engage them,” Loomis says. “One of the things  that we identified early on is that this building is not holding our operations anymore.”

What is the Surrey House: One of the oldest buildings in Harrison, the Surrey House was built in 1880 and opened as a restaurant and hotel to accommodate the growing population of a booming new lumber town. Over the years, the building has served primarily as a restaurant, saloon and hotel, although ownership has changed many times. The last owners ran a restaurant there until 2011, when the business closed. The building remained up for sale for several years until the library was approached about purchasing the Surrey House for its operations. The library purchased the building for $75,000, thanks to a $50,000 donation from the owner.

What the Surrey House offers: Much more space for the library’s collection and services as well as parking for patrons. Relocating to the historic structure offers an additional 2,000 square feet of space, giving the library an overall 7,400-square-foot footprint. Only the first floor will be open to the public at this time. To use the higher floors would require the construction of an elevator and create more costs for the renovation. “It’s not something we can afford at this time,” Loomis says. “Who knows. In the future we may be able to do that. Right now our goal is to get in the building and enjoy this wonderful property.”

The Surrey House is also an important building for the city of Harrison and the surrounding community in Clare County. The library serves the city of Harrison, home to about 2,100 people, and Greenwood and Hayes townships. By renovating the Surrey House, the library is preserving a beloved local landmark and recreating a community-gathering center.

The renovation: Last used as a restaurant, the interior of the Surrey House was set up for dining. A lot of the interior will remain intact and is being converted to library use. The bar, for example, will become a community room for public access and available for meetings. The sit-down area of the restaurant will be a youth activity room. The entry room will house genealogy and history. The former banquet room will house the library’s main collection. The kitchen area will contain public access computers, main restrooms, book sale room. The old office and cooler area will be the entry to the new library welcoming visitors to the circulation desk. Restaurant equipment has been auctioned off and a fireplace donated to the library is already in place. 

Who’s doing the work: Most of the work is being done by one of the library’s employees. Periodically, he has help. “It’s extremely unique. We don’t have a large construction company. We don’t have massive amounts of people working day in and day out. We’re doing all of the work ourselves. We’re lucky enough to have a licensed construction builder on our staff. He also worked on the remodeling of our current library,” Loomis says. The library is working with local vendors for heating, cooling and electrical needs. 

Advertising the library's new home.Fundraising: The cost of the renovation is estimated at about $450,000; the library raised half that amount and received matching funds from the Clare County Community Foundation, the Herbert H.& Grace A. Dow Foundation, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation and the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation. 

When will the new library open: Library officials are hoping to move into the Surrey House in the spring. “I’d say we’re 80 percent done, if not a little more,” Loomis says. “We need to make quite a few leaps forward but that will put us where we need to be.” 
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