Building New Stories

library seeks $7 million to upgrade aging building

Tom Giffey |

TAKE A LOOK, IT’S IN A BOOK. An artist’s rendering of possible renovations to the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, including a third floor and an expanded front atrium.
TAKE A LOOK, IT’S IN A BOOK. An artist’s rendering of possible renovations to the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, including a third floor and an expanded front atrium. Image: Ayres Associates

Declaring that the existing 43-year-old building needs upgrades so it can continue to serve the community for generations, supporters of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire have launched a campaign to raise at least $7 million in donations.

“The time has come when this wonderful library’s ability to meet the authentic needs of the Eau Claire area is constrained by the limitations of the aging facility and lack of space,” library director Pamela Westby said at the Sept. 12 launch of the the Story Builder Campaign. Flanked by colorful renderings of what an improved and expanded library could look like, campaign supporters explained that many of the library’s physical components (including the roof, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical and data, and more) are in need of replacement. In addition, population growth and rising public use have left the community with an undersized library: It falls below the minimum standards set by the state Department of Public Instruction, officials said.

The 61,000-square-foot facility would have to grow to 102,000 square feet to offer the same amount space per Eau Claire resident as it did when it was built, Westby said. The planned expansion would be more modest – at least initially – adding 29,000 square feet to the building through the addition of a third floor (the building was originally designed with a third floor in mind) and a minor expansion of the first floor. Among other things, the project would include the addition of a 200-seat community room, a doubling the size of the youth services programming space, the creation of more small- and medium-sized conference rooms, more dedicated space for teens and children, construction of a new front atrium, and improvements to bring the library into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2017, the library commissioned a space needs analysis from Zimmerman Architectural Studios of Milwaukee. These recommendations have shaped current plans, and prompted the library to seek additional funding from the city. The City Council agreed to provide $11.5 million for upgrades over the course of three years. Originally, the library board considered seeking an additional $8.5 million from donors. However, a campaign readiness study conducted by Crescendo Fundraising Professionals of Houston, Minnesota, determined that a goal of $7 million was more attainable instead.

While $7 million is the current target, those working on the campaign are optimistic they’ll be able to exceed that goal, said Bob Eierman, president of the library board and one of three campaign co-chairs.

The fundraising campaign will now enter a “silent phase,” soliciting gifts from potential donors privately before entering a more public phase in April, when members of the wider public will be asked to pitch in. Westby, the library director, said she hopes the fundraising is completed by the end of next year so that construction work can be undertaken in 2021.

Even in today’s digital era, the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library remains a downtown hotspot, drawing more than 1,200 visitors a day and nearly 34,000 to library programs last year. In 2018, patrons checked out 856,000 items and downloaded 119,000 pieces of digital media, including songs, movies, and e-books.

“The role of libraries in society has been evolving to meet the needs of the citizens, but the existing building just doesn’t do that,” Eierman said. “This project is a once-in-a-generation effort that’s critical to maintaining the library as a key component in creating and maintaining a well-educated and creative community. We take the charge very seriously, and are super excited to be involved in this important and exhilarating effort.”

Learn more about the Story Builder Campaign at