BEMIDJI-After more than a century, the Bemidji Carnegie Library is still standing-and work is ongoing to bring back its original 1909 look.
Starting this past fall, crews have been working inside and out to restore the structure's interior and exterior. The building is also being gutted to replace utility systems and other equipment.
The project even includes a new addition to the rear of the Carnegie, which will serve as a new, accessible entrance to the building.
"The project is about 55 percent finished," Widseth Smith Nolting architect Denise Koenigsberg said during a recent building tour. "The most challenging part has been the unforeseen conditions. When a building is this old, you're always finding new things to deal with. They're unforeseen conditions."
"There's still quite a bit of restoration work that needs to be done," said Catherine Marchand, a member of the Friends of the Carnegie Library volunteer group. "A lot of mechanical work is in progress and the rear entrance is still early in its stages."
The project is expected to be completed in early July with a grand opening set for Aug. 10. Once finished, officials say the building will feature a mix of old and new.
"We've been working with the Minnesota Historical Society along the way," Koenigsberg said. "So, we bring in modern equipment and utilities, but we're working to keep it behind the scenes. The upper level will be all historically restored. For the lower level, with the offices, it will look all modern."
"The new entrance is going to have a very modern finish inside, but outside, it will still compliment the historic exterior outside," Marchand said.
Marchand said crews are also working to restore the look of the original windows and doors.
"They're replacing the glass, but taking the original window frames and restoring the trim," Marchand said. "With the front door, it's going to look very similar to the original wooden doors with glass panels."
Those doors, Marchand said, will open and close, but the intent is not to have it be a functional entrance. The doors will likely have no handles and will usually be locked, as the rear door will be the main entrance moving forward.
To reach the new entrance, a path will be paved connecting both the Bemidji Avenue North sidewalk and the trail along the back of the building.
Inside the Carnegie, the upper floor will mostly be open event space available for rent. Part of the nearly 2,000 square-foot section will be dedicated to a new youth reading program, though. Additionally, Marchand said the upper floor will feature a small exhibit with details about the library and the surrounding area.
Accounting for construction costs
This past summer, the Bemidji City Council approved the $2.2 million project for construction, inspection and project management, along with $86,000 dedicated for potential change orders. Much of the cost has been covered by the Friends of the Carnegie Library, which began fundraising and grant writing in 2012.
When the council made the decision to award the bid, the Friends of the Carnegie Library had collected just over $2 million, resulting in a shortfall of $211,804. As part of its approval, the council covered the projected shortfall, with the intention for the Friends of the Carnegie to continue its fundraising effort.
Since the council took action, Marchand said the Friends have raised about $42,000.
As for the project, over the course of the restoration, change orders have come to about $75,000 so far. Additionally, in February, the city approved an additional $112,000 for the building to renovate the building's lower level, making it into rentable office space.
The cost of work on the lower level isn't connected to the amount the Friends of the Carnegie is responsible for, though, according to city officials.
The price tag for the project was also a factor in how much work could be done. Initially, proponents wanted to move the building back several feet from Bemidji Avenue to avoid damage from street maintenance. However, the idea was scrapped because of additional costs.
However, Marchand said the most important aspect was restoring the building and keeping it standing.
"The Carnegie is one of the last historic buildings we have that is distinct from others downtown," Marchand said. "We're so lucky that we've been able to preserve it."
Bemidji's Carnegie Library was one of 1,679 built across the country from 1886-1919 with money donated by Andrew Carnegie.