- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A working stove, a sink that doesn’t leak, new cabinets and a fresh coat of paint transformed the Benton Harbor Public Library’s galley kitchen from an eyesore into a teaching tool.

“We are thrilled with this,” library board President Mamie Yarbrough, also a Berrien County commissioner, told The Herald-Palladium ( https://bit.ly/1JdQZNC ).

“Technically, the stove worked, but it was a fire hazard,” said Interim Library Director Kat Boyer.

She said a home-school group that meets at the library every Monday realized the kitchen was not functional and wanted to help. That’s where Michael Lah of Benton Harbor, who works at Whirlpool Corp., comes in. He said his wife home school their four daughters and belongs to the group.

“They didn’t ask for a whole new kitchen,” he said. “They asked if I could help replace the range, which is a simple request.”

But when he went to inspect the range, he saw a lot of other problems.

“(The range) was nonfunctioning. The hood above it was nonfunctioning,” he said. “The cabinetry that was supporting everything was … starting to fall apart. Only one side of the faucet worked. We saw a bigger opportunity here than just donating a range.”

He said he and his team at Whirlpool in the Global Consumer Design Cooking Studio gutted the room and replaced the range, cabinets, sink and microwave oven, which were all more than 40 years old. He said they did it under the supervision of Kevin Mitchell from Mitchell Construction in Eau Claire.

“He kept us from doing anything stupid,” Lah said jokingly.

“The idea was to give them an understanding of what we could do and what we couldn’t do with certain materials and how to dismantle it and put it back together,” Mitchell said.

Once all of the supplies were together, Lah said it took them three days to transform the kitchen in October. The kitchen was dedicated recently during the Holly Art Hop.

The material, appliances and labor would have all cost at least $7,500 if the library had paid for it, Lah said.

Boyer said there is no way the library could have paid for the kitchen makeover.

“Library budgets in general in this state are declining year after year,” Lah said. “I know all the good that they do here and the small amount of money they do have to work with. They’re keeping the lights on and they’re buying books and they’re putting on programs.”

Boyer said having an operational kitchen means she can expand her Teen Iron Chef program during the summer.

For the past two summers, she said, she had to run the program using blenders and a microwave oven.

“I’m really interested in seeing what else I can do,” she said. “It’s great to see how much the community loves us and supports us.”

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Information from: The Herald-Palladium, https://www.heraldpalladium.com

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