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Carnegie building named a ‘Site Worth Saving’

Cars pass by the Carnegie Library building Thursday afternoon. Local volunteers are hoping to raise $1.6 million to restore the building and move it away from State Highway 197. John Hageman | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
The Carnegie Library stands in Library Park on the shore of Lake Bemidji just a few years after it was built in 1910. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BELTRAMI COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2 / 2

BEMIDJI — Local fundraisers will receive some outside assistance in their quest to restore the Carnegie Library building.

The Save the Carnegie Committee announced Thursday that the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, a St. Paul-based private nonprofit, has named the building a "Site Worth Saving." That means the group will use its resources to help local volunteers write grant applications and publicize their efforts across the state.

"It’s a major step forward," said Lew Crenshaw, chairman of the Save the Carnegie Committee.

The committee has raised almost $500,000 of its $1.6 million goal since it launched its efforts in August, according to a press release from the alliance. They plan to restore the building and move it 10 feet back from its current location abutting State Highway 197 in downtown Bemidji.

"They do not give grants themselves," Crenshaw said of the PAM. "But on the other hand, they are part of the preservation community down in the cities and nationally. And the preservation community contains people who do give grants and money.

"So we think this is going to give us a leg-up in our grant-writing."

Fundraisers have already received a $150,000 grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation, Crenshaw said, but were disappointed to find out that the Blandin and McKnight foundations no longer fund brick and mortar projects outside of their home counties.

He said they planned to pursue a state Legacy grant this fall for the project with the PAM’s help. That effort won’t be hampered by the state’s recent appropriation of Legacy dollars for the parks surrounding the Carnegie, Crenshaw said.

"If we can get that Library Park renovation done and pull the Carnegie away from the road and get it rehabbed, what a wonderful thing we’re going to have down there," Crenshaw said.

The Carnegie Library opened in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Bemidji City Council originally voted to demolish or relocate the building, citing costs and the building’s condition.

"With guidance and information from PAM, concerned local citizens were able to convey the potential for grants and private fundraising support for preservation, earning a stay of demolition from the council," the press release states.

The council stipulated, however, that the building must be moved back from State Highway 197/Paul Bunyan Drive Avenue Northwest, adding significant costs to the project.

Erin Hanafin Berg, a field representative for the PAM, said the organization chose the Carnegie Library partially because of the work the committee already has done.

"Obviously, about a year ago it had been an advocacy issue," Berg said of the effort to reverse the council’s decision. "So we admired the advocacy they had done about that. And then they do have a fair amount of momentum already toward realizing their vision."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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