After a decade of talk, will Grand Forks' library see action?
It's been a long decade for those who want something—anything—that resembles a new Grand Forks library. But on Wednesday, City Council and Library Board leaders resolved to take another look at the perennial issue.
In a joint meeting, library and city leaders resolved to form a joint committee that will explore the future of the library and report back with recommendations in the near future. Though they didn't set a precise timeline, one Library Board member said the new committee could meet as soon as three to six months from now and could recommend a range of steps forward—from a new library to major renovations.
"We've had lots of discussions, lots of architects. It's been a 10-year process. I don't see any necessary reason to completely reinvent the wheel," Library Board member Ted Sandberg said. "But if the library needs to be repaired, replaced, moved, anything like that, there needs to be a collaborative effort from the board and the city.
"Everything is on the table," Sandberg continued. "Nothing has been ruled out. No sites have been ruled out, no locations, no ideas."
The city has recently turned toward other potential locations—including the former Macy's location at the Columbia Mall, the downtown Herald building and property near the current library site. City Administrator Todd Feland noted that the city has even toured the Herald and Macy's buildings, but said those and other options take "money we don't have right now."
But the formation of a committee is a step towards the action that those like Library Board member Gary Malm has long awaited. Malm is among the most vocal local politicians critical of the pace city leaders have set for renovating or building anew, and he showed it on Wednesday evening, his voice often rising and, at times, his hands coming above his head as he made his point.
"Man, I hear a lot of stories. I go out in the community. This is for sale, this is for sale," Malm said, referencing potential new library sites and new solutions that are met with a reminder that City Council has the final say on the matter. "Nobody takes it anyplace. ... To me, the answer would be disband the Library Board, we'll throw the problem to you people (the City Council) and say, 'solve it.' "
Malm's apparently flip comments and frustration come after years of unresolved questions on the library's future. A presentation from city and library staff on Wednesday helped sketch that history, which has included a parade of reports, recommendations, meetings and a failed referendum to fund a new building's construction. Recently, it's been back-burnered as city leaders focused on the passage of a higher local sales tax to fund infrastructure.
Library Director Wendy Wendt noted that, during that time, the library has changed, too, becoming increasingly aged and outmoded. Built in a world before the widespread use of computers, the library also lacks increasingly important amenities as simple as private meeting spaces.
"We need to be open-minded about the options. A real viable option would be a two-site location having a branch—say, downtown and a main library," City Council and Library Board member Sandi Marshall said. "(But) it really doesn't matter what I prefer. I want to make this a process that involves the best thinking."
The new committee to steer the library's future, whose exact membership is not yet clear, is expected to meet within the next 30 days.