25th Anniversary - Funding a new Library



The Carnegie style building of the Council Bluffs Public Library was feeling the strain of becoming a modern library.  Bond measures for a new library failed to pass in 1980 and 1991.  In 1994 it was time to try again.


1991 proposed site and library building
1991 proposed library site and building.

In 1994 a citizen's committee was formed to investigate adding on to the current building or finding a location for a brand new building.  The committee settled on four sites:

  • The block bordered by Fourth & Main and First and Willow.
  • The vacant Sears, Younkers or Philips buildings in the Midlands Mall.
  • The former Beno-Wickham property at Broadway and Scott Streets (owned by the city).
  • The two vacant Rog & Scotty's store buildings on East and West Broadway.

The citizen's committee recommended and the Library Board accepted, that the new library should be at the former Beno-Wickham site.  The Beno-Wickham site is between Kanesville Boulevard and Broadway and past 6th Street on the east.  Ultimately the city rejected this proposal. The city was hoping to have something that would generate tax revenue on this site.

The citizen's committee then shifted their focus to the property between 4th & Main.  Based on the results in the past and knowing that it would take a 60% majority to pass a bond measure, the committee started to focus on private funding for the new library.

On April 22, 1995 Barbara Chernik, Library Director, passed away.  Library managers took over library operations.

$700,000 had already been raised for a new library; $300,000 from the Council Bluffs Library Foundation, $300,000 from the Friends of the Library and $100,000 from the Gertrude Jones Trust.  These funds got a big boost when Ameristar Casinos donated $500,000 to the cause.

The City of Council Bluffs earmarked $750,000 in gaming revenue for the next three years.  The Iowa West Foundation pledged to match the city's earmark.  Together this would come to $4.5 million.

On September 12, 1995 the Council Bluffs Library Foundation opened a $4.5 million fund raising drive.  On September 21, 1995 the site between Fourth and Willow was officially selected as the library site.

Fundraising began in earnest.  The Daily Nonpareil started a fundraising campaign that enabled citizens to contribute what they could.  The Peter Kiewit Foundation, Firstar Bank, First Bank, Union Pacific, The Mary J. Bonacci Estate and the Lied Foundation were a few of the large donors.

Demolition of the existing buildings on the new library site began on December 23, 1995.  In September 1996 Leo A Daly's architectural design of the new library was revealed.  Construction Inc. of Omaha was hired to build the library and construction began in March of 1997.

Demolition begins on the new library site
Demolition of the buildings on the new library site.

Among all the demolition and fundraising, Jim Godsey was hired as Library Director in January 1996.

In July of 1997 the final piece of steel was placed on the library building.  Features of the new building would include brick murals on the exterior, a functioning sundial and fountain.  The 67,000 foot interior would be accessible, include two floors with plenty of room for the collection.

In July of 1998 the library was ready to move.  Glenwood Transit was hired to transport everything to the new library.  Staff was busy packing up the collection.

Maggie Baker and Mary Carpenter stand among the packed boxes in the old library
Maggie Baker and Mary Carpenter stand among the boxes waiting to be moved to the new library.

The Council Bluffs Public Library was set to open on August 10,1998 but equipment delays and minor flooding on the first floor delayed the official opening.  A ribbon cutting and open house was held on August 9th and the library officially opened to the public on September 1st 1998.


The new Council Bluffs Public Library on the cover of Library Journal
The new Council Bluffs Public Library was featured on the December 1999
issue of Library Journal.​​​​

 The total project cost of the new library was $12.5 million. 

80% of the cost came from private funds:

  • Iowa West Foundation
  • Lied Foundation Trust
  • Kiewit Foundation
  • Hitchcock Foundation
  • Carver Trust
  • Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil
  • IBP, BN, UP
  • Ameristar
  • Firstar Bank, First Bank, People's Bank, Mercantile Bank
  • Conagra
  • Jennie Edmundson Hospital
  • Redlands Insurance
  • HGM Associates
  • Other corporate and private bequests, and the general public of all ages

20% of the cost came from public funding:

  • City of Council Bluffs, $2.25 million
  • Pottawattamie County, $150,000

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Mary Carpenter
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