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Building Grand Forks' library: Everything you need to know before May 19

The results of a report about the Grand Forks Public Library -- possibly including where it might be located and how much the land could cost -- are due out Thursday, and it'll reveal a lot about what a new building will be like.


The results of a report about the Grand Forks Public Library - possibly including where it might be located and how much the land could cost - are due out Thursday, and it’ll reveal a lot about what a new building will be like.

It’s the culmination of months of discussion, research and public input behind building a new structure. Based on what library leaders hear at the meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall’s council chambers, they’ll make a recommendation on the library’s future by mid-June and send it to the City Council for further review.

Right now, many are hoping they’ll hear a clear decision on whether the Library Board wants a new building downtown or “midtown” near the Grand Cities Mall.

So in the interest of making sure everyone is equipped with the information they need, here’s what is known so far about the push to build a new Grand Forks Public Library:

Why are we talking about building a new library?


Behind decades of talk is the short answer: the building is outdated and aging.

Library leaders argue the current location at 2110 Library Circle, completed back in 1972, is older every day. The library still had about 25 percent of its original carpeting when the Herald toured the building in 2015 , and it has limited capacity for computer wiring -- an effect of construction before the digital age. The same goes for the boilers, which are originals and replacing them would require tearing down a wall.

“The biggest problem we have is a lot of the infrastructure for the building was designed to last 30 years or so,” Library Director Wendy Wendt said last year. “It’s a bunch of things together that can’t support what we’re doing in the future.”

But why build a new library? Why not just remodel?

That’s a plan the Library Board has explored. According to figures presented in February , it would cost $8 million to $9 million to renovate the library under a plan that would probably forfeit about 30 to 40 percent of the library’s floor space. If the library expanded and renovated, it would cost $14 million to $15 million.

That plan was dismissed in December , though, and library officials say costs were becoming too high relative to the cost of building a new library. Library Board Chairman Brian Schill argued last month that remodeling money would be poorly spent on the library’s current out-of-the way location, and that logistical challenges like high traffic could lead to more costs -- like street rerouting -- in the future.

“It’s cheaper in the short run. In the long run, we think it’s a bad decision,” Schill said. “I think the community would look back and say, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’”

So where would a new library be built?


Over the past few months, a decision-making process for the future library site has settled on two potential regions of the city: downtown and near Grand Cities Mall, which the Library Board calls “midtown.”

Those locations were whittled down from a group of five potential spots, which included the library’s current location, 42nd Street and near Choice Health and Fitness, by a committee formed in the aftermath of a failed 2011 public referendum on a sales tax for a new library, which relied in part on public input.

But there’s still work to be done concerning an exact site. Even if the downtown or midtown region of the city were selected, library leaders have to select a plot of land to build on, which means striking a deal with one or more property owners.

Though JLG Architects announced at a recent Library Board meeting that there are four properties -- two downtown and two midtown -- whose owners might be willing to sell, the information was not released, though it’s expected to become public with the release of the report.

Officials with Hope Church, which owns much of the land near Grand Cities mall through an LLC, have said they’d be willing to make a land deal, as have leaders at Alerus, which owns land along the DeMers Avenue corridor. Officials from Grand Forks Public Schools, which owns a parking lot adjacent to Alerus property near DeMers Avenue and Fifth Street, have said they’d be “willing to talk about it.” Library leaders have also discussed a $790,000 price for the former Ponderosa building at midtown.

“I am very confident that we will have some terrific options,” Wendt said.

How much will it cost?

Estimates vary based on site location and how elaborate plans become, which means it’s tough to say -- blueprints haven’t been compiled yet.


In February, the base price was estimated at about $22.6 million, though that’s just for the library and doesn’t include land costs. That figure goes up once it’s placed in context, with a library built downtown with parking estimated at as much as $26.5 million.

Schill said a new library only makes sense if renovation costs at least 60 to 70 percent of the price of a new structure. If the price of a new building exceeds that amount, he said the board will have to look for ways to keep costs down -- perhaps by selecting a different parcel of land in the downtown-midtown neighborhoods.

How would this new library be different from the old one?

No final plans in place yet. That being said, there’s been plenty of brainstorming and speculation by library leaders about amenities, including a cafe, an education-focused “maker-space,” private study areas and more room for programming.

“Libraries of the past were focused on books and materials and what the library can provide,” Wendt said. “Libraries of the future are about the people and what the library can do for and with the people. That’s a whole shift in the focus for libraries.”

What happens after June?

Once library leaders approve a proposal, the most important decisions fall to the Grand Forks City Council, which funded about 85 percent of the group’s $2.4 million 2015 budget. That group is expected to use all the data the Library Board has collected to make a decision on the library’s future. City Administrator Todd Feland said that, assuming the Library Board decides between the downtown and midtown neighborhoods, the city will probably decide whether or not to move forward -- and could explore funding -- starting sometime in July or August.

Wendt said library leaders want the approval of Grand Forks County leaders on a future plan, but the project doesn’t legally need their approval to move forward.


What do City Council members have to say?

It depends on who you ask. While City Council member Bret Weber -- who also sits on the Library Board -- is an outspoken proponent of a new library, City Council President Dana Sande has hesitated to call it a priority.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't have a new library, but with all the budget issues we're going to be looking at, I wonder if today it's going to be the most important thing," Sande said on April 4 , noting the state’s ailing finances.

The matter is further complicated by City Council elections on June 14, with four of seven seats contested and the mayor’s office in play. Jeff Manley, who is running to unseat Bret Weber in Ward 3, has said he feels the costs savings that remodeling represents are important.

And by the time the issue reaches the council, it’ll be entirely up to them.

“We’re not just going to get out of the car altogether,” Library Board member Corey Mock said, “(But) the city council gets into the driver’s seat, and we ride shotgun.”

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