Editorial: North Christian library decision needs public support

Bartholomew County Public Library has a space shortage. It has an opportunity to address some of its space needs by accepting the rare offer of a donation an architectural masterpiece, which of course also would require becoming the patron and caretaker of North Christian Church.

The library board plans to meet Dec. 11 to consider whether to adopt a strategic plan that could include accepting a gift of the 1964 landmark, one of the most noteworthy in Columbus’ unmatched collection of world-renowned Modernist gems. The church’s dwindling congregation offered to donate the church for a potential future library use, and the property currently is owned by a placeholder nonprofit entity.

We agree with library director Jason Hatton’s observation to The Republic’s Andy East that the church would be “a good fit” for future library needs by becoming a branch of the public library. That’s especially true because Hatton noted about 4,000 children live within walking distance, making North an ideal site for youth programs.

In addition to the downtown library, BCPL has only a branch in Hope and bookmobile service, so adapting North Christian as a new branch could help the library address its space crunch while also conveniently expanding its services and programming to more people the community.

“If the board votes to adopt the plan, conversations are expected to begin in January over whether the library will accept the donation, with a final decision potentially coming as soon as February,” East reported.

The church, East wrote, “is one of just 43 structures in Indiana that have received the National Historic Landmark designation, according to the National Park Service. The six-side church with a sloping roof and a 192-foot spire with a gold-leaf cross was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.”

Appropriately for a public institution dedicated to facilitating inquiry and building community, the library is taking its time to studiously determine whether this is the best course forward. We’ve listed some of the pros, but there are also cons, not least of which are the unique costs associated with maintaining and preserving a unique architectural treasure.

The board must be thorough and clear-eyed in weighing these factors, and the public also has a role in this decision, because the library is funded through our local tax dollars. Everyone has a right to have their opinion heard, and they should freely share their views with the board.

North Christian presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our library and for our community, but public support will be essential in charting a path forward not just for the library, but for the building itself. A beloved building that speaks to Columbus’ legacy as a small but mighty influencer of art, design, architecture, faith and culture unquestionably deserves the highest and best use in its next life.

If after careful study the library board concludes it should steward this building, we believe the community will embrace that decision. Preserving a beloved, iconic landmark and allowing it to write new chapters inspiring generations to come seems to us an idea worth checking out.