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Let's talk about the library, Grand Forks Council member says

Grand Forks Public Library (Sam Easter/Grand Forks Herald).

It wasn't that long ago that city residents were divided over the future of the Grand Forks Public Library, and it might not be much longer until that same debate returns. At the end of Monday evening's City Council meeting, member Sandi Marshall announced that city officials are interested in exploring the library's future.

"We've done a lot of work on moving forward with the current building," she said, alluding to recent work performed to keep the building's roof, entrance and boilers working. "We're ready to start talking about 'Where next?'"

Pressed after the meeting, Marshall explained that she and council members Dana Sande and Ken Vein have been on a long-dormant committee to explore the library's future. Their work has been crowded out for more than a year by City Hall's push to raise the local sales tax, especially because leaders have wanted to avoid giving the impression that new revenue would fund a new library. But since voters approved a measure hiking local tax rates by a half penny in November, it's cleared the city's desk to pursue the library's future once again.

Marshall stressed, though, that the specifics of that conversation and where it will lead aren't clear yet.

"We want to start the conversation—is (recent repair work) a stopgap measure, and how long do we expect this library to last?" Marshall said. "What's next, in terms of a potential new building? We need to begin that conversation anew. People have been waiting for us to do something, and now it's time for us to start that conversation."

Library Board President Justin Berry was unable to be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

The announcement is a sudden development, and comes faster than city leadership had appeared to indicate just weeks ago. Reopening the discussion coincides with a $675,000 bequest from Joe Neel Jr., an intensely private local man who died this summer—suggestions for which have ranged from a new building to renovations at the current library location to new programs for visitors.

Vein said he's interested in meeting to discuss the library's future, especially now that the sales tax matter has been put to rest. There's plenty of open questions on what talks will produce, though—from library funding to a new location.

"We put it on hold, and now we need to decide what that step should be," Vein said.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108
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