Grand Forks library committee minutes contradict mayor's, council members' views
Last fall, four Grand Forks City Council members and Mayor Mike Brown said they were supporters of a new public library downtown. That's according to meeting minutes from the Library Board's Building Committee. But Brown and some council members ...
Last fall, four Grand Forks City Council members and Mayor Mike Brown said they were supporters of a new public library downtown.
That's according to meeting minutes from the Library Board's Building Committee.
But Brown and some council members recently told the Herald that while they would not oppose a downtown library, they believe multiple proposed library sites have potential to serve the community well, and more research is needed before a decision is made.
Two council members disagreed with the minutes, as they do not remember saying last fall they were "supporters" of the proposed downtown site, which is at Fifth Street and DeMers Avenue, now the location of a Central High School faculty parking lot and an Alerus Financial branch.
The minutes from last October, obtained by the Herald through an open records request, state Brown, Council President Dana Sande and council members Jeannie Mock and Crystal Schneider each were "a supporter of the (new library) project and of the downtown site."
Council member Bret Weber was also a proponent of the downtown site, according to the minutes, which state he said having a library near the Grand Cities Mall "is by far the second best site after the downtown site."
Council members Ken Vein and Terry Bjerke did not favor any specific site, while Doug Christensen supported the far south-end site near Choice Health and Fitness, according to the minutes.
The Library Board has identified five potential library sites - downtown, south end, 42nd Street South, South Washington Street in front of the Grand Cities Mall and remodeling the existing library.
The meeting minutes show Library Building Committee members briefing the committee on individual meetings with each council member and the mayor. Council members and Brown did not attend those committee meetings.
The committee had sought individual meetings with council members and the mayor last fall because "we thought we owed them a heads up on the things we were doing," Library Board Chairman Brian Schill said. The committee also wanted council members' feedback on their work before publicly presenting it at a council meeting, he said.
The minutes also show the committee's other work toward a new library, including developing a vision for a "Library of the 21st Century," seeking future library partners and researching other cities' libraries.
Schill said the building committee is still working, including planning public forums for the summer. It will likely choose a final location by this fall.
Sande and Mock were both surprised to hear the Library Board's minutes showed them as supporters of the downtown site.
"That's not accurate," Sande said.
Both he and Mock said they likely showed some support for the downtown site while supporting the other proposed sites. Both said they generally support upgrading the library but have not yet decided on a favorable location.
This may have caused some miscommunication reflected in the meeting minutes, Sande said.
But, he added, "It seemed to me that they (the Library Building Committee members) were pushing the downtown location," based on his meeting with them last fall.
Of the meeting minutes, Mock said, "I can't say that's not accurate because I'm not an opponent of downtown," but she does not favor the downtown site over others.
Schneider said the meeting minutes accurately described herself, as she said she would support a downtown library "in an ideal world," but she said she understands there are several factors involved in considering a location.
One of these factors is parking, which Sande said he believes will make the downtown site not viable, because Central High School officials are already concerned about the availability of parking and the downtown site involves the school's faculty lot.
Other council members also shared this concern in a City Council meeting earlier this month, during which Schill presented the building committee's preliminary rankings of the sites, with downtown as the No. 1 site, followed by the south end.
Like Mock and Sande, Brown said he would support the downtown site for a library, but he would support other sites as well.
The Herald could not reach Weber for comment on this story, but he has previously shown support for a new library without publicly endorsing a specific site.
Christensen, Vein and Bjerke said the meeting minutes accurately described their standpoints, as Vein and Bjerke do not favor any specific library site. Christensen supports the south-end site, he said, because that is where Grand Forks is growing.
All said they support upgrading the library in some way.
"It's important for people to note that doing nothing is not an option at this point," Schneider said.
Schill said the Library Building Committee's work last year largely focused on the downtown site, as reflected in the meeting minutes, because that site is the smallest of all proposed sites. As a result, the committee had to do more research to make sure it was an option, based on the library's need for space.
Though Schill said council members voiced support for the downtown site last fall, he said their opinions are just one consideration in selecting the final library location, as the Library Board also must consider the opinions of the public, county officials and potential donors.
More research is needed before the Library Board can make any final decisions, and that work is in progress, Schill said.
All council members and Brown agreed with the need for more research before deciding on a location.
Schill added a location is just one piece of the library's future-what's more important is what the library will be able to offer to the community, he said.
He has described the new library-"a 21st century library experience"-as possibly featuring a small music studio, a bookstore, study rooms and more.
"People kind of get hung up on this location thing, but there's so much more to be excited about," Schill said.
To Brown, it's most important that the library be part of "a whole package" for residents.
For example, a library would be close to other entertainment opportunities downtown, putting it on the south-end would place it close to Choice Health and Fitness, and at 42nd Street South it would be close to the Alerus Center, he said.
"The library is essential to any community," Brown said. "There are so many opportunities, we need to see what's best."