With limited space, Columbia Heights looks to new library

  • Article by: KEVIN BURBACH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2013 - 4:18 PM

A task force will present its recommendations after more than a year of work.

Columbia Heights is moving toward a new library, but when and where it will be built remains to be determined.

On Monday, the City Council will review the recommendations of a task force appointed by the mayor, which has proposed that a one-level, 20,000-square-foot library replace the current two-level, 13,000-square-foot building. The larger structure would allow for more books, technology and parking.

Some say a new building has been needed for more than a decade. A new library isn’t certain yet, but several city officials say it’s highly likely.

Several potential sites have been examined, but nothing has been nailed down.

In January, a developer approached the city about renovating the Northeast Business Center, located downtown at 40th and Central Avenue, about two blocks from the current library at 820 40th Av. NE. The center is now 70 percent vacant after the University of Minnesota Physicians left.

Frank Dunbar, owner of Dunbar Development Corp., proposed putting the library and City Hall on the first floor of a renovated building and using the remaining five floors for a senior living center.

The proposal was well received by the task force and Mayor Gary Peterson, and the panel passed a resolution in support.

But City Council members were hesitant to get involved in senior living again, said City Manager Walt Fehst. The city is currently selling Parkview Villas, housing units that provide senior living spaces as well as subsidized public housing for elderly and persons with disabilities.

Fehst said the city has other options, including the now-vacated Mady’s Bowling Center building on Central Avenue near the business center, which the city acquired in December.

Fehst said the Mady’s site is a desirable location and could potentially be home to a library, housed in a building from 1960.

In its recommendation, the task force cited parking as a major concern. The current location has 19 spots, Dougherty said, and the task force requested 50 to 75 spaces in a new location.

Mayor Peterson said it would be nice to get new offices for the city departments because its current building is aging.

“The city offices aren’t state of the art, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’d be nice to have a new city office building. If it works out, that’d be great.”

‘Profound’ limitations

Renee Dougherty, interim director of the library, has wanted to replace the current library for more than a decade.

Dougherty, along with others in the community, say the library is one of the cornerstones of Columbia Heights.

“It’s the place where you can go and you can meet three people you needed to talk to,” said Catherine Vesley, the secretary on the Library Board.

With a population of almost 20,000, more than 16,000 residents had active library cards in 2012, according to the Columbia Heights Annual Report. The library also saw about 119,000 visitors in 2012.

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