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Kickoff for Carnegie construction: Officials, volunteers celebrate project renovation

Earlier this week, representatives from Widseth Smith Nolting architects, Bradbury Stamm Construction, the city of Bemidji and the fFriends of the Carnegie gathered at the building to mark the start of the renovation project on the 109-year-old building on Bemidji Avenue North. Submitted photo.

BEMIDJI -- One chapter came to an end for the historic Carnegie Library in Bemidji earlier this week, just as another is starting.

On Tuesday, representatives from Widseth Smith Nolting architects, Bradbury Stamm Construction, the city of Bemidji and the fundraising group Friends of the Carnegie gathered to celebrate the beginning of the structure’s restoration. The project will renovate the 109-year-old building along Bemidji Avenue North to its former glory.

Crews will fix and restore both the exterior and interior of the structure, while also adding new windows and an improved HVAC system. Initially, proponents also wanted to move the entire building back several feet from the road to avoid damage from being so close to the street. However, the cost to do so was too high.

In mid-July, the Bemidji City Council selected a construction bid from Bradbury Stamm of $1.75 million. When factoring additional costs of inspection and project management, the total to restore the city-owned building comes to $2.2 million.

The Friends of the Carnegie Library started fundraising in 2012 and by July had raised more than $2 million for the project. As part of its decision in July, the council also opted to cover the projected shortfall of $211,804, with the understanding that the Friends of the Carnegie will continue fundraising to pay it back.

Catherine Marchand of the Friends of the Carnegie said Bemidji residents should expect work to begin soon, and continue through the winter, with an expected completion date sometime in spring.

After six years of fundraising, Marchand said seeing the construction phase ready to begin was “wonderful.”

“For both the Friends and the city, it was a really exciting moment,” Marchand said. “We want to thank all of the people in this community who supported us.”

In a press release, Friends of the Carnegie President Suzanne Liapis said “We are so pleased that the work to preserve this historic building is beginning… Our vision is at last becoming a reality.”

The Carnegie Library was last occupied by the Watermark Art Center, which moved out in late 2015. The center is now located nearly across the street at 505 Bemidji Ave. N. Bemidji’s Carnegie was one of 1,679 built across the country from 1886-1919 with money donated by businessman Andrew Carnegie.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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