A new chapter is in the works for the Northfield Public Library with a $3 million renovation project approved earlier this month following two hours of contentious City Council debate.

When the library reopens in 2016, visitors will enter through a new two-story, glass-enclosed commons with room for reading, concerts and other events. Inside, there will be expanded space for the children’s collection. Plans also call for expanding and upgrading the first-floor meeting room, creating larger staff work areas and making safety and accessibility improvements to bring the building, constructed in 1910 and expanded in 1984, up to modern building codes.

No date has been set for the start of construction. But the contract calls for substantial completion by the end of January.

More than $1.4 million for the project is coming from a private fundraising campaign led by the Friends and Foundation of the Northfield Public Library and the city library board, Jensen said.

“From the standpoint of the Friends and the Foundation, the library board, there’s lots of jubilation, lots of congratulations,” Library Director Teresa Jensen said. “It seemed like a real long shot to be able to raise more than $1 million in a short amount of time and yet it’s happened, which says to me how much the public wanted this project to move forward.”

The city, which initially committed $1 million to the project, will end up putting in more than $1.6 million after agreeing to pay for safety and accessibility improvements. The city and the fundraising campaign each will contribute close to $71,000 to cover a shortfall of nearly $142,000 after bids for the project exceeded estimates.

The proceeds from an auction of furnishings the library no longer needs will add to the fundraising efforts, Jensen said. An old oak circulation desk, in storage since the 1980s, went to a local restaurant that is using it as a reception desk. A local bookstore owner bought some of the library’s shelves.

Split decision

The decision to split the cost of the shortfall and choose Brennan Companies as general contractor came after a lengthy City Council debate Aug. 4. While council members declared support for the project, they disagreed over whether to throw out the 10 bids the city received and seek a new round of proposals.

All but one bid exceeded the estimated construction cost of $2.3 million. That lowest bid, however, was incomplete because it failed to include some alternate items.

The construction bid from Brennan, which city staff recommended accepting, was the next lowest bid at $2.4 million. A contingency fund, furniture and shelving costs and architects’ fees bring the total project cost to slightly more than $3 million. Chris Kennelly, owner of Northfield Construction Co., said his bid of $2.5 million would have been lower if the filing deadline had not been on a Monday morning, which he said was a difficult time to get pricing from subcontractors.

“I think it would be cleaner to rebid the whole thing,” Council Member David DeLong said, moving to reject all the bids and start over. “I’m 100 percent for this project but also 100 percent for saving any money we can here.”

Mayor Dana Graham said he also wanted to seek new bids to try to save money on the project. But when he said the motion to reject the bids likely wouldn’t pass — noting council members were raising their hands to speak — others balked.

Council Member Jessica Peterson White objected to the mayor’s statement, citing a rule against characterizing the positions or motivations of other council members. A council majority eventually voted to declare the mayor out of order for that comment. Graham apologized, saying he meant no offense.

After the motion to reject the bids failed, the City Council voted 5-2 to award the contract to Brennan Companies and split the $142,000 shortfall with the fundraising campaign. “It’s a beautiful investment in the community,” Peterson White said. “It’s worth every penny.”

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.