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What kind of GF library do we want?

For supporters of Grand Forks' Public Library, the case for a new library has been fairly clear since consultants explained how difficult it would be to renovate where the library is now. But what the public at large thinks of all this is a myste...

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For supporters of Grand Forks' Public Library, the case for a new library has been fairly clear since consultants explained how difficult it would be to renovate where the library is now. But what the public at large thinks of all this is a mystery to them, a distressing gap in knowledge if the issue is to go on a special ballot in April.

This week, supporters are launching a weekslong campaign to gather input, partly to inspire voters to think about what kind of library they might want.

Library Director Wendy Wendt said they'd like to hear from people who don't use the library now because maybe a new library could give them reason to drop by more often.

But the campaign, Library Board Chairwoman Susan Mickelson said, would also tell supporters if voters even want a new library to replace what they feel is a cramped space that the community has outgrown.

For voters, it potentially means a new ½-cent sales tax for 5½ years, with all proceeds going to construction of a basic, modern library. That would bring the sales tax up from 5¾ percent to 6¼ percent.


Supporters say they'd also seek donations to add a few extras to the library.

Rough estimates from library officials peg the cost of a new library at about $18.8 million, not including land costs.

What voters would get would be, well, that's still to be decided. But it would be bigger, more efficient, better wired for new technology and be expandable down the road, unlike the current library.


The current library opened its doors in 1972 in what was then the city's far south end, but is now close to the center of the city's population, which city officials think is about 17th Avenue South; the library is just south of there, not far from Kmart. There's been one renovation in 1987 and one planned for 1997, but was put off indefinitely because of the flood disaster.

The problem, as library officials have pointed out, is the library is just too small and outdated.

Some examples that former library director Dennis Page and Wendt, his successor, have noted: The area set aside for children's story time is also used for storage and, sometimes, children have been turned away for lack of space. The under floor conduits used to run wiring isn't big enough to accommodate many more computers. The library was never built with computer labs in mind. Yet, today, that's one of its most popular features.

Officials point to a consultants report that compares Grand Forks' library unfavorably to those in North Dakota's three other big cities. At 0.57 square foot per person in the service area, it's comparatively smaller than libraries in all three. Yet it's used far more with a circulation of 13 per person, which is nearly double that of the other three.


Back in 2007, library officials had considered an expansion. There'd always been a plan to fill out the high ceiling in the main reading area with a second floor. Another option considered was a second smaller branch.

Building new

By the summer of 2009, though, officials were considering adding a replacement library to the options. They made up their mind toward the end of the year after consultants at Library Consulting P.A. convinced them renovation in the existing location presented a lot of problems.

Remodeling to modern standards can be very costly and would still require lots of compromises given the limitations of an old building, the consultants said. Another cost and a major disruption is the need to move everything to a temporary location while work is underway. Consultants didn't come up with a cost estimate, though.

There's not enough parking as it is and a larger library would require a lot more, a problem that consultants say might be solved if the city bought adjacent land and realigned Library Circle. But then that would essentially be about as large as the library can get with no more open land for future expansions.

Tougher to solve is lack of visibility from the main road, which would help increase usage. Properties blocking the view from South Washington Street are already in use and would cost an estimated $2.4 million.


But if it's going to be a new building, what would it be like?


A key issue is location. The Library Board had narrowed it down to the old Leevers supermarket in the northern half of the city near DeMers Avenue and farmland around the old Rex electronics store in the southern half on 32nd Avenue South.

Board members didn't want any location farther south than 32nd because they worried it would be harder to reach for poorer north end residents. On the other hand, as Wendt noted, if you don't have a car, getting to the current location wouldn't be that easy, either.

In recent months, the board has added a lot in the Park District's new wellness center complex, just off 40th Avenue South. The district's offering an exchange of land for city money and loans to build new sewer and water lines. The lot is in the far south end of the city and not on a main road, but the wellness center is expected to be a major destination for area residents.

Council members will discuss that option at their meeting at 5:30 p.m. tonight at City Hall, though the consensus coming out of both the finance and service committees is to wait until the public has weighed in.


Another key issue is what to put in the new library.

These days, libraries aren't just for books anymore, said Wendt. They're more like community and technology centers, offering Internet access, space for different age groups to read and study and space for a variety of events, from adult-learning classes to music performances.

A new library might, for example, have separate areas for kids, teens and adults. It might have a coffee shop; the thinking among librarians today is if it's OK for Barnes & Noble to do it, why shouldn't libraries do it? A new library might have more computers and lots of outlets for laptop users; the current library has few. It might have lots of study rooms and meeting spaces.


Then, there are some features that might allow users to spend less time in the library if they're in a hurry. For example, a new library might have a drive-through where books can be dropped off and items on hold picked up.

A new building would allow new features to save money. For example, some libraries now have machines that automatically check in books and then sort them, saving staff time for helping library users. Some have skylights, windows and systems that adjust lighting automatically, dimming them in areas where there's lots of natural light.

And those are just features for today's libraries. Library officials expect that new uses may emerge in the coming decades. They'd like a library that's internally ready for new uses -- For example, it might have raised floors allowing more wiring as the role of technology increases. -- and externally ready for expansion with plenty of available land.

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