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HARRISON – When the Harrison District Library’s board of directors settled on its April 2016 decision to purchase the historic Surrey House for use as the library’s new home, it was a decision that set in motion years of efforts to raise community awareness and renovation funds.
Surrey House owners Brook and Kim Wood donated back 40% of the purchase price to the library, but that was just the first drop in a very large bucket containing the projected renovation costs. So, naturally, the next step was to auction off the building’s residual contents: dining/banquet furniture, tableware, barware, kitchen equipment, and lots more. That sale drew a large turnout and was deemed a success.
The second step, designed to conjure up more community interest in the structure and its history, was an exciting evening spent with the Michigan Area Paranormal Investigative Team out of the Traverse City area when that team set up shop to determine what [if anything] went bump in the night in the Surrey House. Yes, the team actually spent some very dark hours in the landmark structure, which dates back to Harrison’s early logging hey-day.
Although there had been a floor plan and drawings done early on, proper inspections and engineered plans still had to be finalized, which led to a more specific list of projected costs and expenses. Those architectural drawings were completed by May 2017 and the HDL Board of Directors settled on a finalized plan in June 2018. That led the library to develop its “Turn the Page” fundraising campaign in support of the Harrison District Library and Surrey House Renovation Project.
Keeping the library top of mind is important when seeking financial support for its plan, and the library has not fallen short on that front. Program offerings have included all sorts of children’s, families’ and community events on the Surrey House site, including three summers of well-received Front Porch Concerts featuring a wide variety of musical styles to entertain all ages and tastes.
There has been a good deal of donor support, as well as enthusiasm on the part of patrons who share the vision for a more spacious and functional building: a building with room for children, historical collections, adequate computer terminal access, research, meeting space, drive-through access and much more. The original hope was that the library’s move to the new site would be completed by early to mid-2018 – a good, but unfulfilled hope.
The initial goal of raising $650,000 also has been adjusted a bit. The original plan was to raise half that amount, then pursue grant funding. Then, in 2019 it was suggested that the library pursue a larger grant through Middle Michigan Development Corp. which could conceivably enable renovation of the entire building, rather than only the first floor. Unfortunately, that dream scenario was not to be realized.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get selected for that project,” said Sheila Bissonnette, library director. “We were really hoping that was what was really going to make the project phenomenal – to do the whole thing. We heard about that [non-selection] just before December, so we jumped on trying to get our matching funds to get the project going right away. It will still be wonderful.”
While that disappointment may seem to be a setback, Bissonnette does not view it that way. She told the Cleaver last week that, to-date, fundraising has garnered just more than $200,000.
“We hit the $200,000 mark so we decided that was enough to go get matching funds from the Midland Foundation,” Bissonnette said. “So, last month we submitted our request for matching funds. We’re hoping that will come through before spring, and then we will start on getting things going.”
She also noted that people have continued to be generous in their support of the project.
“For Christmas we had random people just send us money through the mail: $100 here, $50 there,” Bissonnette said. “You know it really adds up, and it was nice to see.”
Bissonnette said the project will use local contractors who have worked in the building before, adding that how the project progresses will depend on how quickly the matching funds are awarded. Her hope is that things will be underway before school lets out for the summer.
“We’ll probably have some stuff that starts on the inside first,” she said. “We’re not really building anything, we’re just doing a remodel, so we can do some stuff on the inside first.”
Bissonnette added that she is looking forward to seeing the different people who will pop in to visit the library once it becomes more accessible than in its current less-convenient, parking-strapped curbside location.
“It’ll be nice to see how much we’ll grow,” she said.
Progress plans aside, fundraising does continue and donating to the Surrey House Renovation Project is still possible and welcome. Turn the Page pledge cards are available at the library which offer the ability to make donation over the course of one, two or three years. Online donations can be made at www.clareccf.org/giving – select “Harrison District Library-Surrey House Renovation Project”. Donations by check should be made payable to “Clare County Community Foundation” and mailed to P.O. Box 391, Clare, MI 48617. Donations to the project are tax deductible.