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GF Library hopes for dedicated sales tax to fund new facility

Grand Forks library officials are seeking a special election in September to decide on a sales tax for a new facility. That's just two months before the general election in November, but Library Board Chairwoman Susan Mickelson said the library c...

Grand Forks library officials are seeking a special election in September to decide on a sales tax for a new facility.

That's just two months before the general election in November, but Library Board Chairwoman Susan Mickelson said the library can't really wait.

A decision in September would allow enough time to flesh out building details to start construction in the spring and beat a year-end deadline to apply for low-interest Build America bonds, she said.

The library, she said, has the money to pay for the special election and won't need to seek other funds from the City Council.

Any library sales tax would follow the example set by Fargo's library system, she said. That is, it would be dedicated only to library construction and would have a set end date, she said.

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Mayor Mike Brown had earlier called for a permanent quarter-percent sales tax increase that would pay for not only the library, but also streets and sewers. But library officials have said they would rather stick to a sales tax with an end date, which would be more palatable to voters.

The current library is, in the view of many patrons and library officials, outdated and cramped. There's not enough room for wiring needed for more computers, for example, and the room used for children's story time is small enough that sometimes children must be turned away.

At this point, library officials have decided on a two-story library of about 63,000 square feet that would cost roughly $12.2 million to construct and equip. Some of that cost, perhaps even the land, could be donated, officials hope.

A citizen's task force has narrowed the potential locations down to five, adding some potential locations and eliminating the former Office Depot strip mall at Columbia Road and 24th Avenue South. The price tag, they learned, is about $2.5 million. That includes the value of the building, which wouldn't be easy to retrofit into a library. Task force members felt it'd be a waste of money to buy a building and then raze it.

Other locations still in the running include vacant land east of the Alerus Center, vacant land west of Slumberland on 32nd Avenue South, the old Leevers supermarket on South Washington Street, vacant land southeast of Ray Richards Golf Course on South 34th Street and the site of the current library off South Washington near Kmart.

The task force is hoping to narrow the locations down further by June 15, when members hope the board will select an architect.

In the meantime, the board is planning to approach the City Council's finance committee for an update on library plans.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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