Bigfork residents weigh in on new library plans

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A larger library for Bigfork is on the horizon.

About 35 community members attended a meeting Monday night in Bigfork to discuss their hopes for the future site of a new ImagineIF Library branch in Bigfork.

A new library building for Bigfork is part of the 2014 facilities master plan for ImagineIF Libraries in Flathead County.

The plan states that Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Bigfork all need new and expanded facilities to meet the present and future demands for library services.

According to the master plan, despite a 60 percent population increase in Flathead County in the past 24 years, the amount of library space in the county has remained the same since 1990.

ImagineIF Library Director Kim Crowley said that at one point library officials considered trying to do all three new buildings at once, but Bigfork has taken the lead position.

“What we want to do is focus on Bigfork right now,” Crowley said. “It’s in the most dire need of more space.”

The Bigfork branch of ImagineIF Libraries is housed in the Bigfork Cultural Center downtown and is about 1,440 square feet.

Square footage recommended for the new Bigfork Library is 6,200 square feet.

While the Bigfork staffers do the best they can, the library is just too small, Crowley said. “There’s no room to provide the programming we provide in Kalispell and Columbia Falls.”

While a new library is definitely needed, Crowley the first step is to figure out where the library will go.

Community members at the meeting suggested general ideas for what the site should have and threw out a few suggestions of properties.

Most people agreed that the new library should be in a good central location that is easy and safe for students to walk to and from Bigfork schools.

Adequate parking, outdoor space and a meeting room or community space in the library were also items most of the group agreed upon.

While suggestions for a two-story library were tossed about, Crowley said the preference is to keep the structure to one story. Two-story libraries are more expensive to build and harder to staff, she said.

The group hoped the new library could be an accessible and fun place for youths as well as senior citizens and a gathering place for everyone in the community.

Crowley said officials hope to have a site for the new library identified by September. Once that happens, she said a full timeline for the project will likely follow in a couple of months.

Another hurdle is funding.

“We don’t know how we’re going to fund this yet,” Crowley said.

The consultants who drew up the facilities plan estimated a new library for Bigfork would cost around $2 million.

“We haven’t vetted that at all yet,” Crowley said. Likely a portion of the project would be funded by public funds and a portion by the Library Foundation, Crowley said.

Crowley said a larger library may not require increased staff. Changes in library technology and automation have done a lot over the years to free up library staffers’ time for other activities, she said.

“It’s just important to know what the community wants,” Crowley said. “I’m just really happy at how many people showed up tonight. It’s their library.”

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