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Movement for the move: Committee working to renovate, move Carnegie Library back away from street has raised nearly $780,000

A committee working to move and restore the historic Carnegie Library in Bemdiji has raised nearly $779,000 of the $1.6 million for the project. The library, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, would be moved 17 feet away from busy Bemidji Avenue. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Although no physical work has yet been done to move the Carnegie Library back from Bemidji Avenue, the planning and financial aspects of the long-awaited project are well underway.

The project includes moving the building 17 feet toward Lake Bemidji, restoring the outdoor stone and brick, as well as the windows and upper level interior of the building, renovating the garden level for a space for one or two tenants and putting in an addition with an elevator to make the building more accessible.

“We can see that it’s going to be a real jewel when it’s done,” Save the Carnegie Steering Committee member Kay Murphy said.

The building will remain on the Register of Historic Places despite its move, as the committee gained permission from the National Parks Service because of damage and lack of accessibility from the proximity to Bemidji Avenue. Inclusion on the register also allows the committee more opportunities to pursue grants and other funding.

“Getting their approval to move the building was a major milestone, and they don’t give it very often,” Catherine Marchand, committee treasurer, said.

Also to stay on the register, the addition to the building has to be located at the back so it doesn’t interfere with the original facade. Also, the stoplight that hangs in front of the building will be changed so it no longer encroaches on the facade.

Committee members said most of the general plans for the project, including the addition and restorations, have been approved. They are now focusing on the minor details of the construction planning, as well as additional fundraising.

“We’re getting down to the weeds now in terms of the design,” Marchand said.

Before July, the committee received $778,800 in grants, donations and pledges, which account for nearly half of the $1.6 million project goal.

If all goes according to plan, the schedule calls for a groundbreaking for the move in spring 2016, and officials said the overall project will take about 10 months to complete.

Marchand said after submitting an initial application for a match grant from the State Historical Preservation Office, they received extremely positive feedback and are hopeful in being selected as the recipient.

The large sums let them meet the goal faster, but small donations are also important to show broad community support, Marchand noted.

“Even though not everybody can write you a check for $150,000, although we are certainly happy to get a few of those, the small donations mean a lot, too,” she said.

People can donate online through the Northwest Minnesota Foundation or by filling out a pledge form on the Save the Carnegie website. For more information or to donate, see The Save the Carnegie organization formed after the building faced possible demolition in 2011.

“We believe that there are still people in the community who value historic preservation and are interested in becoming major benefactors,” Marchand said.

She said conference rooms and wings of the building can be named to recognize a donor or someone a donor wants to honor.

At the Bemidji All School Reunion on Friday and Saturday, Murphy said Save the Carnegie will have a stand set up to sell T-shirts and hand out flyers and information regarding the library project.

The Bemidji Carnegie Library opened in May 1910, part of a the nationwide movement by famous industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who funded thousands of libraries between 1883 and 1929.