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City moves forward on Carnegie

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The Bemidji City Council took its first step toward preserving Carnegie Library's historical significance.

The Council voted to place the building on the Bemidji Historical Registry at a special City Council meeting on Monday night.

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With another winter about to take its toll on the 100-year-old building, the city voted to direct the Historical Preservation Commission to investigate funding sources for the preservation of the Library.

The Carnegie Library, located on the banks of Lake Bemidji in Library Park, is owned by the city. The city leases it to Bemidji Community Art Center and Region 2 Arts Council.

Members of the Bemidji Carnegie Library Reuse Study, a joint project of the city, Minnesota Historical Society the Charlie Nelson Fund for Historic Preservation, and Historic Preservation Fund, presented the study last year to the City Council for consideration.

The study looked at whether Bemidji citizens and government had an interest in saving historic buildings; whether there should be more integration of the building with the use of the park; and whether public funding is likely to be available.

Access problems

As Bemidji Avenue has been widened, the building sits only a sidewalk's width from the roadway. There is little parking available. School groups have to be let off on Lake Avenue Northeast, and the building is not wheelchair accessible.

"We struggle with the access issues on a daily basis," said Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the BCAC.

"The snow plow goes by at very high speeds and has broken some of the building's windows," she said. "We also see people in the park needing to use our bathrooms."

According to Forshee-Donnay, the building does not have the proper public facilities, such as bathrooms, to accommodate people who use the park for various events.

"We're worried about people walking out the front door and getting hit," she said. "That's scary."

Paul Richards, principal investigator for the reuse study and HPC chairman, said moving the building is not a preferred option if it were to remain on the National Historical Register.

"The State Historical Preservation Office said moving it would remove its status from the National Register of Historical Places," said Richards.

"However, there's nothing that prevents the city from not having it taken off National Register and doing what they want to do with it," he said.

Richards warned that taking the building off the National Register would eliminate the chance at attaining any preservation grant dollars.

"The front entrance has to go, this we know. But we have to first find a source of money if we're going to do this," said Councilor Jerry Downs.

Reuse study

The Carnegie Library Reuse committee outlined four possibilities for the building's future:

- Divest the city of the building by demolishing it or selling it for off-site relocation.

- Stabilize the building as a future asset.

- Upgrade the building in its current location with accessibility and/or expansion.

- Relocate the building away from Bemidji Avenue and expand it, or relocate it to the north end of Library Park and upgrade and expand it.

The study found the best scenario was upgrading the Carnegie Library and expand its relationship with Library Park because it provides the most opportunity for preservation and reuse.

CLG status

Richards suggested the possibility of the city switching to Certified Local Government status.

CLG status would give the HPC funding sources. The HPC could nominate places within the city to the City Council to review and designate as a historical significance.

As a CLG status, the city could also apply for matching grant money to be used for preservation use.

"The difficulty about the CLG status is that a home or building could be put on a historical register without the permission of the owner," said Richards.

According to Richards, a property could be nominated and an owner could object. The HPC could recommend to Council that it be designated and the Council would have the ultimate say.

"There's too much in this where the homeowner loses his say on what happens to his property," said Councilor Roger Hellquist. "I will never support this."

Councilor Waldhausen said he fully supported seeking CLG status.

"We need to move with this process of preserving the building, even if it means taking baby steps," said Waldhausen. "When it's gone, it's gone and we can't get it back."

Waldhausen's motion for the City Council to seek further information on CLG status failed on a 3-3 vote by the City Council.

Mayor Richard Lehmann was not present.

Other options

Other options discussed included the city selling the property to an organization, such as the Bemidji Community Arts Center.

"I would like to personally see the arts council being able to purchase it. They certainly have a buy-in more than the city has," said Counsilor Greg Negard.

Forshee-Donnay said the BCAC would not make a decision on buying the Carnegie Library until the Council made a decision as to what it wanted to do with the building.

"Everybody wants to do history but no one wants to put money into it. That's the basic problem," said Alan Brew, member of the HPC. "If it is demonstrated that the state highway it sits on is causing a problem, it is the state's responsibility."

The State Historic Preservation Office is willing to help the city in working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation as far as preventing further deterioration from the front of the building, said Richards.

"A decision has to come from the city because there is a lot of politics involved in the decision," he said.

Future steps

The Carnegie Library is currently listed on the National Register, but not on the Bemidji Register of Historical Places.

At the meeting the City Council was asked why it did not designate the 100-year-old Carnegie Library as a local historical significance.

"The way it was presented it, it would incur more costs if it was added to the Bemidji Register," said Waldhausen. "But recent discussions have informed us there would be no additional costs than what we would already be paying."

Waldhausen made a motion to add the Carnegie to the Bemidji Register, to direct the HPC to seek funding sources, and for it to host conversations with MnDOT for the preservation of the Carnegie Library. The vote was approved 5-1 by the City Council.

We'd like to see this building preserved and have continued use," said Waldhausen. "We took our first baby step in doing so."

awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

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