RILEY — Riley librarian Kathy Caster keeps the old carved wood sign that used to hang above the entrance of the old library on the back counter of her new reception area as a reminder of the place where she used to work.
The old library wasn’t nearly as nice as the new one, which sits in the place of an old, unused building the city demolished. It’s also the location of a former creamery where farmers would bring milk to be processed.
Call her nostalgic (it’s OK — she calls herself that), but Caster wanted to keep the old sign around to remind her of the progress her library has made.
Of course, she could look out the window, too. The old library building still stands, basically catty-corner from the new one.
“I wanted to keep that sign,” she said. “(I wanted to) bring a little piece of the old library with us. Don’t get me wrong, this is a phenomenal building, and I feel so blessed to be able to work here, but it’s a little nostalgic to look at that sign and know where it came from. One of these days I’ll hang it up somewhere.”
The new Riley City Library – funded grant from the Kansas Small Towns Environment Program, or KAN-STEP – was completed in November and was a project nearly three years in the making.
The grant was found by Gary Mills, a retired Riley resident who was with the Riley Development Association in 2010, when the idea for a new city library first started turning.
The KAN-STEP grant provides funds for small towns for improvements that benefit the community. The grant covers the cost of materials for such projects, while construction is left to volunteers.
AFTER a few hoops and hurdles, Mills’ grant proposal was approved in Topeka and Riley was awarded $299,932 to create not only a new library, but a new space for the town’s Community Food Basket, too.
The old Community Food Basket was in the basement of the Riley Presbyterian Church.
“This doesn’t just serve Riley residents,” City Clerk Doris Fritz said. “We have a lot of rural people come into Riley to use the library, and it’s the same with the food basket.”
Fritz said grants like KAN-STEP and the Kansas Small Cities Program Community Development Block Grant, which the city also tapped, are crucial to small towns like Riley.
“We don’t have the tax-base that cities like Manhattan have,” she said. “So those programs are really for the smaller communities.”
Mills, who also put together the floor plan, said the volunteer effort by the community and people from outside the area – for instance, soldiers from Fort Riley participated – in the building of the new library and food basket was great.
“Everybody who worked on the project is very happy and proud,” he said. “We always seemed to have enough people to help us, and many of the people who volunteered were people passing by seeing what I was doing. I told them, and they offered to help.”
Mills said he and another Riley local, Dale Farmer, worked on the building mostly by themselves throughout the week and received more help on weekends. He said that was another reason the construction took a few years, but when it was all said and done, he was happy with the finished product.
He also said the experience allowed the opportunity to become more involved in the community. Turns out, Mills, retired from the military, didn’t know too many people in Riley before the project, which may surprise some considering Riley’s population is just under 1,000 people.
“I lived here for 20 years and didn’t know too many people, but I do now,” he said. “Before I’d just go to work, come home, then go back to work.”
MILLS said he recently went to Randolph — another small community just a few miles north — to help with a bridge that was being worked on there, because people from Randolph helped him in Riley.
“I thought I would pay them back,” he said.
The new library has a mezzanine where conferences, children’s programs and events can be held, and a larger area for kids to play and read – along with two more computers – improve the building from the old.
The new Community Food Basket, which is on the ground level behind the library, adds space and improves accessibility.
“The kids just didn’t have an area,” said Caster, who has directed the library since 2007. “They just had a bookshelf and a little corner, and everyone walked all over their little rug. The reason we had a little rug is because we had a big stain on the carpet. We were so cramped you wouldn’t believe it.”
Caster said the move-in day for the new library was memorable.
“I couldn’t hardly breathe,” she said. “I was so excited. It’s been a dream. We figured things out as we went, and it turned out to be a fantastic library.”
For information on upcoming events at the Riley City Library, go to its Facebook page at www.facebook. com/RileyCityLibrary.