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Carnegie supporters make pitch for state aid

BEMIDJI -- Community members working to restore Carnegie Library near downtown Bemidji made the case Wednesday for $800,000 in state bonding money to be awarded to the project as they hosted state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and members of the House Capital Investment Committee.

Committee chair Hausman and her colleagues made a stop at the more than 100-year-old library on their tour of area projects that have the potential to receive funding in next year's bonding bill.

Hausman said the size of the Carnegie Library request for funding was small-scale compared to other projects she has seen in the past, making the restoration effort easier to possibly fit into next year's list of bond money recipients.

"In the overall scheme of things, that's a relatively small amount," she said.

She also was impressed by the Save the Carnegie Library Committee's assertion that they have raised approximately $640,000, or 40 percent of the total project cost.

"That's a very responsible ask," she said of the request. "On this trip, we haven't been hearing that very often. We've often been asked for 100 percent of a project. We're never happy about that -- we always think there should be local effort -- so that kind of local effort (here) is pretty impressive."

Hausman said state congressional leadership has tentatively decided on approximately $850 million dollars for next year's bill. She cautioned she was not directly involved in the ultimate discussion and the final size of the bill would be from negotiations between legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton.

"The governor has referenced a billion dollars, so I'm guessing we'll be somewhere between $850 million and billion next year," she said. "That's my best guess, but it really gets decided in the negotiation."

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who helped host the event along with Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, and the Save the Carnegie committee, hesitated to comment on the likelihood the Carnegie group's request would come back approved.

"All I can say is, we're just going to keep advocating," he said. "This project's been in the works for quite a while, and I'm just optimistic we'll be successful."

Cathy Marchand, Save the Carnegie's treasurer, was grateful just for chance to make more people aware of the plight of the library.

"I'm really glad we had the chance to ... tell the story," she said.

The fundraising drive was initiated in part because the building's edge is only slightly more than four feet from Bemidji Avenue North/Highway 197. The proximity of the library to traffic poses a safety risk, and the noise of vehicles and the "talking crosswalks" at the nearby intersection is disruptive to people inside, said Lewis Crenshaw, chair of Save the Carnegie. Moving the building away from the highway and closer to Lake Bemidji will improve both the library's safety and its aesthetics, Crenshaw said.

"We can move it 15 to 17 feet back (toward) the lake, and it'll be in a beautiful spot," he said.

Removing the walls that were added in the years following the building's construction in the early 1900s will also make the building more open and attractive to visitors, he said. Carnegie's utilities are also planned to be replaced; such as heating and cooling systems as well as plumbing and electricity.