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Jennings Sunday: Former library transformed into City Hall

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NORTH VERNON — All systems are “go” for the relocation of North Vernon City Hall into the newly restored Carnegie Building this week.

“It seems like it’s been a long time coming, but we are ready to make the move,” Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell said. “Everyone is going to pitch in to get it done. The office staff, the computer technicians, the city workers, the truck section. We are going to make it happen.”

The mayor said when work began on the former library it was obvious the city was taking on a mammoth task. Originally built in 1920, the building on South Walnut Street had been vacant for 15 years.

Though the Carnegie Building served Jennings County for nearly eight decades, the structure no longer met the needs for which it was intended by the last decade of the 20th century.

In 1997, a new library was built at the north side of the city. While the former library was in need of much repair when it was deserted, the city coffers did not allow for a restoration project.

However, there always has been sentimental value. All but the youngest in North Vernon shared memories of time spent in the once lovely book depository. The building was left standing empty and useless in hopes that a solution to save the old library might reveal itself.

The solution finally came to light in 2011.

Once North Vernon was named as a Stellar Community by the state of Indiana, funding became available for many projects to improve the downtown area. After the restoration of the Carnegie Building was accepted as a Stellar project, renovation work began last year.

While $715,000 was allocated for the project, the owner of Bradshaw Building Specialties offered to do the work under budget and was awarded the contract. But once the restoration began, it was discovered that there was more damage than originally thought. The cost of the project increased by more than $100,000.

“We could not have finished the project without the cooperation of Wes Bradshaw and the Stellar Committee,” Campbell said. “Bradshaw went far beyond to keep the cost down and, really, donated some of his work. The Stellar group let us pool the amount we had to put up for other projects, which saved the city much of the extra expense.”

Beginning this week, the 6,500-square-foot building will become the home of the North Vernon City Hall and Civic building.

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman is scheduled to attend an open house and celebration at 1 p.m. Oct. 25.

The event is being organized by Jennings County Economic Development Director Kathy Ertel, who said it is Skillman’s office that directs the Stellar Community Program.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the Indiana Department of Transportation are all participants in the program.

“The Stellar people seem really excited about this,” Ertel said. “I think it means a lot to them to see the projects completed here.”

But nobody will be more happy to make the move than the mayor of North Vernon, who will play host to the Southern Indiana Mayor’s Roundtable one day after the open house.

“I think this project will give new life to the downtown area,” Campbell said. “I am just glad we could save the building and help a gracious ‘Old Lady’ come back to life.”

While the building will have a significant new purpose as North Vernon continues to move into the 21st century, Ertel knows that old habits are hard to break.

“I guess we will have to call it the City Hall building from now on,” she said. “But I think the people of Jennings County will always call it ‘The Carnegie Building’ in their hearts.”

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