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New Richmond library may stay in present location

After years of debate, the New Richmond Library Board wants to stay where its present building is located.

That's the result of the most recent architectural evaluation of three potential sites for a new or expanded library facility.

New Richmond hired the Cuningham Group of Minneapolis in late December to review its current location, the city-owned WeTEC building and the Community Commons site. They were charged with developing a recommendation for the community's expanded or new library.

At a special joint meeting of the City Council and Library Board Monday night, architect Sara Weiner of the Cuningham Group explained the process for recommending a preferred site for a new library.

Among the factors used to evaluate each site were accessibility, ability to integrate technology, existing electric and heating systems, sustainability, exterior space for programming, parking, expansion capability, natural lighting and potential renovation and maintenance costs, she reported. Chief among the questions was whether a particular site offered a less expensive option.

"It's got to make economic sense," she said.

In the end, the WeTEC site didn't fit the bill because there is no room for outdoor space, the current building is nondescript, parking is limited and the building shows its age, she noted.

The Community Commons option was also less than ideal, Weiner said, because a library addition would be attaching to a structure with an uncertain future. She said there would be a number of unknowns related to cost that could make that option much more expensive than others.

In the end, the current site of the 6,840-square-foot library became the clear favorite, Weiner said. It has great visibility near the northern "gateway" to the community, and it's next to other community facilities and the downtown.

Library Director Scott Vrieze said the library's "brand" is connected to the site and a move elsewhere would disrupt the long history of Friday Memorial Library. He said the current site also seems like a more logical location for a library.

"It became pretty clear that the obvious choice was the current library site," Vrieze said.

Council member Jim Zajkowski questioned why the Community Commons site wasn't given more consideration in the study. He said if the new building was simply attached to the former middle school, with little or no renovation to the aging structure, it might be a cost effective option.

But Vrieze said the initial selling point of moving the library to the Community Commons site was so existing space could be used and that a smaller library might be built. Without that cost saving, Vrieze explained, that site became less desirable.

"It just didn't seem to be the best library space," he said.

Council member Craig Kittel wondered why the city didn't work more closely with the New Richmond School District when evaluating the Community Commons site.

Town of Stanton Chairman Richard Hesselink noted that parking is a serious problem around the current library, while more parking options are available around the Community Commons.

Vrieze said he understands and appreciates the desire to partner with numerous community organizations at the Community Commons location, but he said the review process was meant to select the best site for a public library. He said the architects got it right.

Vrieze added that library backers will need to aggressively raise funds to make a new library possible. It's clear that there will be more financial support available if the library stays where it's at.

"The citizens are much more willing to support a library on that site," he said.

City Administrator Mike Darrow said the city would be working with various community organizations housed in the Community Commons to see if there's some way to include them in the library building project on the present site.

Among the options being considered is an addition to the existing structure, or a completely new one- or two-story building on the site.

In the end, the matter was tabled by the council on a 4-2 vote. Zajkowski, Ron Volkert, Jane Hansen and Craig Kittel voted to delay a decision regarding a selected site. Roberta Dale-Wozniak and Kirk Van Blaircom voted against the motion to table.

Mayor Fred Horne said a council work session would be scheduled in the future to discuss the matter further.

For more than a decade, New Richmond library backers have been dreaming about building a new facility to meet the growing demands of patrons.

A space needs study was completed in 1998. Proposals, drawings and lengthy debates have been part of the public process ever since.

According to Vrieze, the local public library has been operating beyond its current building's capacity for about 10 years.