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Published April 20, 2011, 04:23 PM

Woman Who Submitted First Complaint to Library Stresses Equality

The woman who submitted the first formal complaint to the Grand Forks library regarding handicapped access says it's important to see both sides of the library debate.

By: Rick Abbott, WDAZ

The woman who submitted the first formal complaint to the Grand Forks library regarding handicapped access says it's important to see both sides of the library debate.

Voters in Grand Forks will head to the polls May 3rd to decide whether to allocate a one percent sales tax to help pay for the new library.

Opposition to the sales tax has been vocal, with a "vote no" yard sign campaign formed. Library supporters have also made their signs.

City council member Terry Bjerke and the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Government group have been responsible for the signs. Bjerke has not been shy about opposing the new library or the sales tax to collect $20.8 million, which he said will lead to more taxes.

"A bigger building with more people means more operational costs, which means a property tax increase. That is how the building is maintained," Bjerke said.

Part of the need for a new library is handicapped accessible bathrooms and book stacks. Molly McBride submitted the first formal complaint to the library about the cramped conditions. McBride says, while she is advocating for a new library, it's important treat both parties with respect, saying city council member Terry Bjerke, who has called the new library an extravagance, is entitled to his opinion.

McBride, who is post-quadriplegic, spent an hour trying to maneuver her way into a very small restroom door. When the library was built in the '70's, the size was considered handicapped-accessible. Now, it's not.

McBride's letter stated "consider this a formal complaint," and, "this is a violation of safety and civil rights."

"(It's) embarassing, yes. Surprising, no. We've known for years we have problems with accessibility," library board president Susan Mickelson said. "I think it's a validation of the fact we have problems. As a public library we are charged with being accessible to the public."

The library debate has been heating up as the voting date nears. Terry Bjerke and Susan Mickelson both reported some less-than-friendly phone calls regarding the topic. Local talk radio has also been abuzz with debate.

For MacBride, it's not just about money.

"My biggest concern is that I believe in equality for both the disabled and the abled. I do realize the cost involved. That's why I called the library. I made it clear, I don't expect an immediate response. They don't have to feel like they have to jerry-rig it to get it corrected," McBride said in a telephone interview.

McBride says it's important to have a handicapped accessible library and bathroom. She says it has to be done in a timely manner and can't be put off any longer.

"As disabled people, we need the use of a physical bathroom. To be treated as if we're trouble makers is off-putting. We're just trying to live our lives," McBride said.

McBride says moving around the library is also a concern, with mere feet separating the stacks.

"It shocked me to go to the library and have it be so inaccessible. I almost knocked a shelf over. It was scary because I don't want to cause damage to the library," McBride said.

"A yes vote (on the library) would prove that Grand Forks values all of its residents and would prove the phrase 'North Dakota nice' is true," McBride said.

If the sales tax passes, it will last for three years or until $20.8 million is raised.