With limited space, Columbia Heights looks to new library
- Article by: KEVIN BURBACH
- Star Tribune
- April 2, 2013 - 4:18 PM
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.”
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.
Dougherty said that a 1999 city report recommended that Columbia Heights build a new 20,000-square-foot library in place of the existing 13,000-square-foot concrete building.
With heavy usage, Vesley and Dougherty both cited infrastructure and space problems as major concerns.
Vesley said moisture problems, issues with flooding and a small basement space for the children’s section are all related to the available space.
“The space limitations are really profound in that building,” Vesley said.
Dougherty agreed and said teenagers in the community really enjoy the library but are hindered by a lack of space and material for them.
“Right now, our young adult section is a hallway,” she said.
The task force also recommended increased resources for young adults, as well as more digital resources, such as WiFi Internet and more computers.
The city and its community are heavily invested in the library, Dougherty said, because it is one of the few city-owned libraries in the metro area and has been in Columbia Heights since its inception in 1928.
“There’s a real history of community support for the library,” she said.
The library is independent of the Anoka County Library system but shares some resources.
Dougherty said that she didn’t have specific desires for the library’s new location. She does have one goal: “I would like to see a new library happen in Columbia Heights.”
Kevin Burbach is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.
© 2015 Star Tribune