Library board prepares for vote on church

IBJ photo by Mickey Shuey The aging former North Christian Church is one of Columbus’ most recognizable landmarks.

Bartholomew County Public Library Director Jason Hatton said he is unsure which way the seven-member library board is leaning as it approaches its vote Monday on whether to accept the gift of of North Christian Church, a National Historic Landmark, as a part of its programming space especially for nearby students.

Columbus Capital Foundation currently owns the celebrated Modernist structure at 850 Tipton Lane in Columbus. The library has spent the past two years, since April 2022, investigating the possibility and feasibility of using the structure that disbanded as a church in July 2022.

The board will meet in a public gathering at 4 p.m. at the main library at 536 Fifth St. in downtown Columbus.

“I think most of the board members see value in the project,” Hatton said. “I think they simply are considering whether or not it makes total sense for the library at this time.”

At the last board meeting March 18, board member Vern Jorck said that he ideally wanted two things in order to make a responsible decision in favor of accepting or refusing the North Christian property and its renovation and annual expenses: another entity to help with programming and general operation, and also to assist with the structure’s expenses.

Other board members said such additional information also would help them make a solid decision for or against the idea.

Hatton said he believes that board members have talked to other entities since last month about possible collaborative efforts, which Hatton himself has emphasized would need to unfold to make any North Christian arrangement effectively work.

Board member Dawn Doup-Pandit said she especially liked the idea that North Christian is within walking distance of several schools, which she and Hatton said would make after-school programming for students easily accessible and convenient.

She told board members that decisions toward expansion and progress always involve risk.

The city already has seen two heralded Modernist buildings transition successfully from their original use to a new, unrelated use the past few years. The original Republic building at 333 Second St. became the home of the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program several years ago. And the former Irwin-Union Bank building in the Eastbrook Plaza became the second location for Lucabe Coffee Company, and the move garnered national publicity for the business and the city.

The nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation was especially significant in an advisory role the Lucabe move, and has been involved in the early stages of the library’s discussions about the North Christian re-use.

Hatton lauded board members for “being very deliberate” and detailed in their fact-finding and coming decision.

“I’m pleased to see that they’re being very deliberative,” Hatton said,. “They realize that this is a very big decision for the library and the whole community. And they’re really taking this very, very seriously.”

Hatton, who has been very publicly supportive of taking on the church property, does not get to vote on the matter.

If the board votes in favor of accepting the property, Hatton said the library would begin to use the outdoor grounds “almost immediately,” including for activities for the library’s much-promoted summer reading program. Use of the building itself, on the other hand, could come probably only after renovation, he said, including a new heating and cooling system and accessibility improvements.

About the meeting

What: The Bartholomew County Public Library vote on whether to accept the gift of North Christian Church for the library’s additional programming space for activities and events.

When: 4 p.m. Monday

Where: The library at 536 Fifth St. in downtown Columbus