by Tiffany Tuell

Thirteen years after a building fund was first established, the Oakhurst Branch Library's long dreamed of expansion is finally complete. A grand opening for the new 2,000 square-foot expansion will be held Wednesday, June 12 at the library, 49044 Civic Circle Drive.

The event will begin at 4 p.m. with children's activities and music by Barbara Ulman. At 5 p.m., there will be presentations by Friends of the Oakhurst Branch Library President Candace Flammang, former FOBL president Dr. Angelo Pizelo, and Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler. The official ribbon cutting will be held at 5:30 p.m. followed with refreshments.

"The entire Oakhurst community is invited to come and visit our new community room and, in addition, go on a tour of our new children's room, teen area, ESL computer stations and much more," said Dale Rushing, Oakhurst Library branch manager.

Besides the new community room, the library's new expansion also includes a small warming kitchen for hospitality, a small staff room and two Americans with Disabilities Act compliant restrooms. FOBL also has a book processing room and storage area on the south end of the expansion.

Both Rushing and Ellen Mester, Madera County librarian, said none of this would have been possible without the Friends.

"The remodel of the Oakhurst Library and the transformation of the Fire Station into a Community room has been a long but worthy process," Mester said. "The tireless hard work and tenacity of the Friends of the Oakhurst Library made it all possible."

Mester also said there were others that played an integral part in getting the project completed. Those people include: Bill Hayter, who coordinated the project, as well as Dale Rushing, Jim Elliott, Candace Flammang, and District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.

Flammang also gave a big thanks to Elliott, who worked with FOBL, Rushing, and Hayter through the remodel project since 2010.

"Jim is one of the most valuable FOBL members and volunteers an extraordinary number of hours," Flammang said. "He has addressed many details that were overlooked, and solved numerous problems as they arose. One of his new projects is the decoration of the Children's Area. "

Now that the library has the new Library Community Room, The Sue Rhu Room is being turned into a children's room.

Mester also thanked the Mountain Area community for their patience throughout the whole process.

"It is a beautiful wonderful addition to our library and to the Oakhurst community," Mester said.

The library has been part of the community since 1911, however, it has been at its present location since 1977. That was the same year Friends of the Oakhurst Branch Library was organized to help support the needs of the library. Sinc
e then, FOBL has been instrumental in raising funds for the expansion.

When FOBL past President Angelo Pizelo first established the library's building fund in 2000.

"At the time we needed space because when we got new books we had to get rid of old books to make room and it didn't seem right," Pizelo said.

The plan was to build a 2000 square foot room on the northwest end of the library, but there wasn't enough money. So, in 2003, FOBL petitioned Supervisor Gary Gilbert to dedicate the Fire Station property to the library and in 2006 the Madera County Board of Supervisors designated it to the library.

The Friends began to raise money for expansion through book sales and the support of other groups such as Service Organization of the Sierra, Sierra Telephone, and many others. Twelve years after they began, FOBL had collected $150,000 -- 60% of that from book sales. Money was also raised through piano concerts by Barbara Ulman and Elizabeth Walter.

"It took a lot of friends involved -- not only the Friends, but also people that donated books and people offering to help with sales," Pizelo said. "It's really been a community effort."

The building fund still needed more money, though, and Flammang said they spent many years looking for grants but receiving no results.

Finally, in 2010, the Madera County Resource Management Agency found a United States Department of Agriculture Community Facilities grant, and hired Hayter of WLH & Associates to apply for the grant and manage the remodel project. FOBL secured a matching-funds grant with $150,000 in the Building Fund from the United States Department of Agriculture Community Facilities, part of the American Restoration and Recovery Act.

In September 2010, FOBL signed an agreement with USDA and a memorandum of understanding with Madera County that FOBL money would be spent first and is retained by FOBL until billed through Madera County. Construction on the library remodel of the Fire Station began Oct, 8, 2012 and was completed February 2013.

"All of it was just a magical evolution of the library itself," Pizelo said. "It's just amazing what we've done. Talk about dedication, these people (FOBL) are just amazing."

Flammang, who has been a FOBL board member for 13 years, is pleased to finally see everyone's hard work come to fruition with the completion of the library remodel/expansion.

"I'm pleased that our FOBL Board persevered and completed what was started in 2001," Flammang said. "Most of our board members have served for more than five years. Pride, joy, lots of energy expended, satisfaction, appreciation for everyone's help -- we feel so pleased to see the addition completed."

Anyone interested in using the new Library Community Room can contact the library at (559) 683-4838. The room is free of charge for use by nonprofit groups and is available for $25 to business groups.

Editor's Note: Candace Flammang provided historical information for this story.

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