Excelsior library gets green light

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2012 - 11:42 AM

After years of planning, the new library got final approval from the city last week. Construction will begin next spring.

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This rendering of the new Hennepin County Library planned for Excelsior.

It took two designs and several years of planning, but the much-awaited Excelsior library is now finally a go.

After clashes over the modern look of Hennepin County's libraries and the city's desire to keep its quaint historic downtown feel, the city and county finally reached an agreement, with the City Council giving final approval to the project last week. It now goes to the Hennepin County Board for approval this fall.

"The library story is a long one," Mayor Nick Ruehl said. "Sometimes great things take time."

For residents in Excelsior, Shorewood, Tonka Bay, Deephaven and Greenwood, it will be a drastic transformation from the current city-owned 1960s-era library that is about 3,700 square feet. The new county-owned $5.6 million library will move a block away and be nearly twice the size at 7,200 square feet.

"This will bring this one up-to-date with other libraries," said Mark Wenzel of 292 Design Group, the architect behind the project.

The one-story brick building will be taller and much more spacious than the current library, adding things the current one has gone without such as a public meeting room, parking lot and more updated computers. Two entrances will open from Water Street and the parking lot, and an outdoor reading space will be included outside the building, which will be located next to the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail.

It's been years in the making.

The five cities first started talking about updating the city-owned building in 2004, but couldn't agree on funding. Then the Excelsior library was among those the county decided to update.

Although the initial design aligned with other new Hennepin County libraries, such as the modern glass-and-steel designs of libraries in Plymouth, Maple Grove, Roseville and Maplewood, the 2011 proposal was met with an outcry from residents.

"The design just didn't meet the design sensibilities of the community," Ruehl said. "And the county acknowledged that."

An advisory committee made up of Ruehl and residents like Kim Lesinski helped give input that a brick building would better fit the historic downtown.

"Excelsior is a small town," Lesinski said. "Everybody wants to keep that look and feel, but still have modern amenities."

Changing face of Excelsior

Replacing the old and small building will make the library more of a regional attraction and year-round landmark for Excelsior, said Lesinski, who takes her 3, 4 and 7-year-olds to the library every other week.

"It's one big rectangular," she said of the current library. "I think people will come from quite a ways to go to the new library."

County project manager Sarah Garbis said the present library already is popular, but a new building is expected to draw even more visitors.

County Commissioner Jan Callison, who represents the Lake Minnetonka region, chaired the advisory committee and said the current building is in poor condition. The new county-owned building won't just be updated for Excelsior but will serve the broader community. "This reflects the South Lake Minnetonka community," she said.

Now that the City Council has unanimously approved the final plans, construction at 337 Water St. is slated to start next spring, with the building opening in summer 2014. It's just one of many new developments planned or in progress for the small Lake Minnetonka city, from a boutique hotel to a grocery store.

"It usually takes a long time for things to happen in Excelsior," Lesinski said. "But now it seems like there will be a lot of changes in a short period of time. The face of Excelsior will be changing a lot."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib

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