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Published November 08, 2012, 04:13 PM

Report Says Updating Grand Forks Library Would Cost $13.9 Million

Architect Lonnie Laffen said that if the cost of the renovation is more than 60 percent of the cost to build new, then building new is usually the better option. The estimated renovation cost of $13.9 million is 67 percent of the $20.8 million estimated cost of building a new library in 2011.

By: Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald

Renovating the 40-year-old Grand Forks Public Library would cost an estimated $13.9 million, according to a new architect’s report.

That compares to the $20.8 million cost of building a new library proposed in 2011, which voters decisive rejected.

Lonnie Laffen, president of JLG Architects, and Library Director Wendy Wendt presented the report to the City Council on Monday.

He noted that if the cost of the renovation is more than 60 percent of the cost to build new, then building new is usually the better option. The estimated renovation cost he gave is 67 percent of the 2011 cost of a new library.

However, Laffen and Wendt did not offer a recommendation regarding the library’s fate to the council.

“This report answers the question of ‘What will it take to keep them in the building that they’re in?’” Laffen said.

ADA laws

Renovations would include $8.1 million in upgrades to the existing building and $5.8 million for a 22,250 square-foot addition, according to JLG’s report.

A large part of the cost has to do with getting the library in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The library risks being sued if it does not comply with ADA, according to Laffen.

Council member Doug Christensen pointed out the city does not own the library and would not be liable if the library is not in compliance with the law.

The library is an independent organization that receives funding from the city and county.

Items not meeting ADA requirements include the library’s bookshelves, transaction counters, restrooms, elevator and stairs.

For example, the bookshelves are too high and not spaced far enough apart to allow patrons in wheelchairs to comfortably navigate the aisles.

“If you’re in a wheelchair, these books might as well be on the moon,” Wendt said Wednesday, gesturing to the books on the top shelf.

About 12,000 square feet would be required to house the shelves displaced by the larger aisle width at a cost of $1.4 million. Add in new shelving for current and future books and that cost increases to $2.6 million.

Without the addition, Laffen said the library would lose 40 to 50 percent of its volumes if it expanded its bookshelf aisles to meet ADA standards.

Health issues

Addressing potential health issues also would be part of the update. Asbestos is present in the building’s pipe insulation and potentially its ceiling tiles, Laffen said. Locating and removing the asbestos would run about $125,000.

Remedying mold and mildew issues in the library’s air-distribution tunnels would cost another $25,000.

Other upgrades would include new furniture and light fixtures, installation of a security system and the reworking of electrical, heating and fire protection systems.

What’s next

Where the money to fund the project comes from is a tricky question.

In 2011, the library asked voters for a 1-percent sales tax increase to fund a new building. More than 60 percent of voters said “no.”

“We did get one thing out of the general election,” Council President Hal Gershman said. “Something needs to be done about the library.”

Christensen suggested library officials begin a community conversation with residents and the tax-collecting entities that fund it, including the city.

“Once that happens, then bring it to the city,” he said, noting that all the council could do is raise property taxes or create a referendum for a sales tax increase.

The library board will meet and discuss its next steps in pursuing the renovation, Wendt said.

The community has a number of options including renovating and building an addition to the library, limiting its services by renovating just the existing building, constructing a new building or just letting the existing building deteriorate, according to Wendt.

“It’s up to this community to decide what to do with this library,” she said.