In mid-March, as the COVID-19 crisis ramped up, our work at the Tribune and other newsrooms across the United States shifted. Suddenly, reporters faced a public health emergency affecting the safety of their readers as no other we had encountered. Like a tornadic storm, it evolved quickly, first with details of the number of those testing positive, then the number of deaths, and soon after, the closing of schools and businesses. It drew all of our attention as we tried to present up-to-the-minute changes.
We all tried to make sense of the virus itself. What was it? Why did it have such a high mortality rate? How was it contagious? Why were people buying so much toilet paper?
We also had never lived through a safer-at-home order that affected all of our lives in countless ways. Our reporting then focused on revealing how we would continue to live through this, how children would be educated, how municipalities, police, EMS and fire departments would continue to function, how businesses would survive, and how we would all carry on as we self-isolated. We then began reporting on organized efforts by community members to help others.
Meanwhile, the spring elections also demanded coverage, particularly at a time when our state leaders presented contradictory messages to stay home and self-isolate while allowing in-person voting. We not only strove to report the winners of these elections, but how municipal clerks worked to protect voters and poll workers.
We tried to keep up with other news, and for the most part, we did.
But in Waunakee, one very worthy story fell by the wayside, and now, two months later, it’s kind of old news. But this is an important and uplifting news story for the Waunakee community, and while it may be a little crusty and stale, it deserves telling.
In March, In Business magazine presented the Waunakee Public Library with its Project of the Year Award for Best New Development or Renovation as part of its Commercial Design Awards program – such an honor just as the 40,000-square-foot building closed its doors to the public to comply with the governor’s safer-at-home order.
The judges for the program were prominent, including: Mark Fenton, senior vice president of Leopardo Interiors Group in Chicago, Illinois; Marc Manack, principal at Silo AR+D in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Russell Manthy, principal at IA Architects in New York City.
The story in the March edition of the magazine describes the library as such:
“The new space was designed for community gathering and social learning. It features an open and flexible two-story design that contains an abundance of room for library collections. Among the better design features are tall windows with exterior plazas that provide natural light and take full advantage of the views of Six Mile Creek, which flows through the library campus, a surrounding tree line, and a more active downtown.”
One of the judges praises the building as a “library of the future,” and the article describes the process of remediating the former Waunakee Alloy site where a toxic mix of mercury and PCBs was discovered. It also mentions green-built features such as the solar panels.
The Waunakee Public Library was a controversial subject just a few years ago, with community members lambasting village officials for forging ahead with a multi-million dollar project without a referendum.
Meanwhile, many other community members worked tirelessly to raise funds and see the project to fruition. Local officials worked with the county, state officials and even the federal government on the site clean-up and land acquisition.
And today here it is, one of Waunakee’s jewels, recognized for its beauty, functionality and exceptional community resource. Even while closed, it has provided online programs for young and old. And when it’s open, the programming fosters our intellectual, cultural and social growth. We should all be proud of this award and this accomplishment in our downtown.