Mesa children and their parents are in for a treat when the new Kids Zone opens at the downtown library, the first of two library renovations funded by voters in the $196 million bond issue they approved in 2018.
Animal tracks will guide children to a series of learning areas centered around an “amazing animals of Arizona’’ theme, although the selection of one particular animal, the Mexican Gray Wolf, drew objections from Vice Mayor Mark Freeman.
“The Mexican Gray Wolf? Why was that chosen?’’ Freeman asked at a recent meeting. “Why not a deer or an elk or a javelina or a coyote?’’
Freeman described the Mexican Gray Wolf as “a controversial animal’’ in the southwest, noting very few people have seen one as opposed to more familiar animals such as a deer or an elk.
“I challenge you to find something more common than that animal,’’ Freeman said.
Library Director Heather Wolf said she looked for animals unique to Arizona, rather than a coyote, which can be spotted in other states, such as California and Texas.
But Wolf said that plans for the artwork are conceptual and after conferring with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, she came up with the ringtail cat as a more acceptable alternative.
An endangered species, the Mexican Gray Wolf was virtually wiped out in Arizona by the 1970s but has been reintroduced by conservationists in recent years.
Even without the Mexican Gray Wolf, the new Kids Zone sounds like almost a certainty for delighting children and their parents.
“The entrances are designed to look like you are entering a mine, with rocks and timbers around the openings,’’ Wolf said. “We really wanted to create a feeling that the child is going someplace special.’’
When children and their parents enter the Kids Zone, they will follow animal tracks on the floor to areas with different purposes. The other animals include a Bighorn Sheep near an area devoted to “pop up story times’’ with artwork of the Grand Canyon.
A den-like area with reading nooks will feature artwork of bears. Artwork of the roadrunner will decorate an area for small children.
Wolf said the first floor of the library will mostly be devoted to children, while the second floor will be devoted to adults.
The $913,919 project represents the first major renovations at the downtown library – which opened in 1981 – since the city’s human resources department moved out in 1998.
A second project will upgrade the Dobson Ranch library, adding a “Think Spot,’’ where visitors can learn technical skills, such as making videos and using a high-quality printer.
The downtown project focuses on a series of interior renovations, such as knocking out some walls, while the Dobson Ranch project requires an addition and approval by the Mesa Design Review Board.
The downtown construction was approved by City Council earlier last month and work is scheduled to start in a few weeks with a completion in May, just in time for summer reading programs, Wolf said.
She said adult areas have been expanded at the main library in the past but more space is needed for children.
“The goal always was to give the rest of the first floor to the 0-12’’ age group, Wolf said. “The children need more space. We had a master plan done quite a few years ago. We’ve been waiting for funding.’’
She said the vast majority of services for adults will be on the second floor, creating a quieter space for them.
“When you specialize, you can give more in-depth services,’’ Wolf said.
One unique feature will be side-by-side computers in the early development area, where parents can instruct children on how to use the machines.
“You need to learn to read, so you can read to learn,’’ Wolf said. “We’re all about information. Information comes in different forms now. Instead of reading a book, they can see it happen and experiment.’’
She noted that the last major renovations at the downtown library were in 1998, when the internet was still somewhat new.
“The world has changed and we are continually looking for ways to help the community go along with that change,’’ Wolf said.
The Dobson Ranch renovations will come before the council in 2021 and the renovations should start sometime this summer, she said.
Wolf said an exact date for reopening the libraries has not been determined because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The libraries have been offering curbside checkout since May.
The downtown library offers a limited lobby service on afternoons, where a maximum of 10 visitors at a time can browse through some books and check them out.
Online services also have been popular during the pandemic, with visitors logging in to enjoy virtual story times and mini-lessons.
“We are excited about moving forward and welcoming people back into all three libraries while keeping our community and our staff safe,’’ Wolf said.