Late doctor's clinic being repurposed as library
BENKELMAN, Neb. -- Timing is everything.
While members of the Dundy County Library Foundation and Library Board of Trustees were discussing a new library in Benkelman, an existing building dropped -- totally unexpected -- in their laps.
Anita Kitt, a member of the foundation, and Florence Parker, a member of the trustees board, said they had heard rumors that the will of the late Benkelman doctor Kenneth Stout included a sum of money for the Dundy County Library, but they were astounded when the library foundation received Dr. Stout's clinic building in downtown Benkelman.
The Chief Street clinic building will provide 1,000 square feet of space just for the public-access main book display and reading areas. The clinic project will require much less fund-raising than a new structure would have, it will eliminate an empty store front on Benkelman's main street, and it will allow Benkelman's city offices (in a temporary location right now after a water leak in the roof) to expand into what is now the existing library.
Dr. Stout's generosity is a win-win for all. Great timing.
The current library occupies the southwest corner of a shared city/fire building built in the mid-1960s.
The library is a popular place in Benkelman, which delights Anita and Florence. But over time and with the addition of computers and patrons using its wireless hotspot access, the library has definitely outgrown its quarters. "To get 10 people in here, it's crowded. We're shoulder-to-shoulder," Anita said. There's no storage space, and no usable public restroom.
And the Nebraska Library Commission recommends that, as the library for all of Dundy County, the library in Benkelman should offer more than its current inventory of less than 10,000 books, Anita said. "We're popping at the seams now," she said.
The proposed new building would have been a 50x60-foot, 3,000-square-foot metal structure on an empty lot across the street south, estimated to cost $350,000. Library supporters were starting to plan fund-raisers for that amount.
Renovation of Dr. Stout's red-brick clinic building is estimated to cost $120,000. Once the building is cleared of Dr. Stout's belongings, starting this summer the interior will be gutted, removing the walls of small exam rooms and updating wiring to accommodate the library's computer system and computers for the public. New handicap-accessible restrooms will be built.
The front door of the single-story building is already at ground level, and accessible to wheelchairs, walkers and baby strollers.
Librarian Christine Egger envisions an enhanced children's reading area, new children's and teens' programs and kids and family game nights. Florence has dreams of a coffee shop corner with deep, comfy sofas and chairs. Anita is impressed with the clinic's storage capacity, both on the ground floor and in the basement. All of the building's HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) equipment will be in the basement, she said.
All of the existing library's desks, chairs, computers and bookshelves will be transferred to the new facility. Florence said the bookshelves in the current library were designed and built -- very well, she added -- by Cornhusker State Industries, and that inmates within Nebraska's state correctional facilities will be asked to build more of their bookshelves for the new library.
Consider donations to the clinic repurposing project; the Dundy County Library Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.
For more information on the library project, contact Florence, the president of the board of trustees, at (308) 423-2223; or Anita, the Foundation president and a member of the board of trustees, at (308) 423-2009.
Dr. Kenneth Stout was born in Furnas County in 1918, graduating from Oxford High School in 1937. In 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served with the Army Air Corps weather service in Alaska during World War II. He was discharged on Jan. 19, 1946, and began classes at the University of Nebraska three days later. He earned his bachelor's and medical degrees in 1952 and served a one-year internship in Tennessee and a one-year surgical rotation in North Carolina.
On Jan. 19, 1955, he started his medical practice in Benkelman with Dr. Moorhouse. In September, 1962, Dr. Stout started his own clinic, in downtown Benkelman.
During his lifetime, Dr. Stout provided funding to the renovation and furnishing of the assisted living center of the Hester Memorial Home in Benkelman, to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and to Nebraska Public Television.
Dr. Stout's hobbies were photography, watching the weather and reading, including four newspapers a day and medical journals.
Dr. Stout retired from his practice in 2005. He died July 21, 2016, at the Dundy County Hospital in Benkelman. He was 97 years old.