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Published June 19, 2012, 06:18 PM

Bemidji City Council: Carnegie Library Must be Moved

BEMIDJI – Lew Crenshaw, chairman of the Save the Carnegie Committee, urged supporters of the historic library to “sleep on it” as they consider their next moves following a Monday night vote by the Bemidji City Council rejecting their request.

By: Bethany Wesley, Forum Communications

BEMIDJI – Lew Crenshaw, chairman of the Save the Carnegie Committee, urged supporters of the historic library to “sleep on it” as they consider their next moves following a Monday night vote by the Bemidji City Council rejecting their request.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday reaffirmed its position that the preservation and renovation of the city’s historic Carnegie Library must include moving the building back from Highway 197/Paul Bunyan Drive and into Library Park.

The council’s 4-3 vote rebuffed a request from the committee to allow supporters to move forward with a fundraising campaign that aimed to renovate the 102-year-old library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, while keeping the building in place.

“If it’s not to be moved, my support goes with that,” said Councilor Kevin Waldhausen.

The Save the Carnegie Committee will regroup today during an 11:30 a.m. meeting at City Hall.

The council voted unanimously in March to allow supporters to fundraise toward the goal of preserving the Carnegie, with the stipulation that the building would be moved back into Library Park. Prior to that meeting, the council had twice in seven months voted to plan for a future Library Park that would not include the Carnegie, voting 6-1 to that effect in September and then 4-3 in January against a motion to reconsider its position.

Councilor Roger Hellquist in Monday’s meeting said the committee was well-informed in advance of the council’s position regarding the Carnegie’s location.

“We told them it was going to be tough collecting money,” he said.

Crenshaw said he had believed the building could be moved, renovated and preserved for about $1 million.

“Now we know, a lot, a lot, a lot more,” he said.

A conditions assessment has since been conducted on the building. Estimated project costs have been obtained that detail a $1.1 million cost to renovate the building in its current location and about $1.55 million to renovate and move the building.

“I don’t think we can raise that,” Crenshaw said. “I’m very, very concerned about the position tonight. We know more now. Let us save the Carnegie by leaving it right where it is.”

One of the problems facing the committee, he said, is that potential benefactors do not want their donated funds to go toward moving the Carnegie.

Crenshaw opened discussion on the topic by presenting three possible alternatives to protecting the west side of the building from the sand and salt along Bemidji Avenue. In that presentation, he noted the committee met with representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which noted that it had an easement in place that includes not only the sidewalk in front of the Carnegie but its western wall as well.

That statement led several councilors to question whether MnDOT’s future plans for Bemidji Avenue/Highway 197 would even further impact the Carnegie down the road.

“None of us here know what’s going to happen with that street, traffic,” said Councilor Ron Johnson.

Johnson advocated for the relocation of the building, noting that Library Park was named for having a library in it, not next to it. Further, moving the Carnegie back, he said, would return the building to its historic roots by again giving it a front yard and also eliminate any concerns with MnDOT’s future plans.

Johnson made a motion that the city support the relocation of the building itself by allocating a previously promised $100,000 toward the cost of the relocation and having other needed funds come out of those earmarked for Library Park improvements. He later withdrew the motion as several councilors spoke out against it, saying they would not support the depletion of the parks improvement fund to move the Carnegie.

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