Library eyes two potential building sites

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ImagineIF Library in Kalispell has identified two potential future sites for a new library — both along the railroad tracks that one day will become an urban trail — and is working with Montana West Economic Development on grant funding for a feasibility study.

One of the sites is the CHS property along First Avenue West North. CHS, an agriculture supplier, is planning to relocate to the city’s Glacier Rail Park by the summer of 2018.

A second site is on Third Avenue East North where Kalispell Medical Equipment operates. Although parent company Kalispell Medical Healthcare has no immediate plans to relocate the medical equipment facility, ImagineIF Library Director Kim Crowley said Kalispell Regional Interim Chief Executive Officer Curt Lund told her it would be fine to include that site in the study.

Kim Morisaki, director of marketing and business development for Montana West Economic Development, is writing a grant application for funding from the state’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund. She is requesting a $25,000 planning grant that would be matched one-to-one by the library.

The grant deadline is March 1, and Morisaki expects to get an answer in April.

The funding would allow the library to hire an architect and engineer to help evaluate the locations with a focus on environmental factors, traffic flow and the cost of developing each site.

“When we’re done we’ll have an idea of the pros and cons of both sites,” she said. “I’ve seen private and public entities use these grants. It’s a brilliant use of [the trust fund] money.”

The library board recently put together a request for qualifications that outlines the scope of work to be done for the planning phase. The firm selected for the feasibility study would provide conceptual drawings of a library facility on each site. That eventually will help the ImagineIF Library Foundation in its fundraising efforts, Crowley said, adding there is no time-line yet for a capital campaign.

The Library board has spent more than a decade looking for a spot to build a new library. The Kalispell library, now located on First Avenue East, serves as the main facility for the countywide library system that operates branch libraries in several other communities. The library has long since outgrown the 23,250 square feet of leased space it occupies in the century-old former post office building.

In 2009 a library building advisory committee had narrowed down a list of sites to three possibilities. At that time the top prospective locations included the former Manion car dealership property on East Center Street and three-quarters of a block north of the railroad tracks where Flathead Industries operates.

Many possible sites have been mulled through the years, ranging from county acreage north of the fairgrounds to the former Eisinger car lot at 1000 W. Idaho St. The Tidyman’s grocery store where Super 1 Foods now operates once was looked at for conversion into a library. The former Gateway Cinemas site was a possibility at one time, too.

A preliminary architectural study at the time indicated it would cost $16 million to $19 million for a new library. Money for a new library has been the perennial roadblock.

In 2014 a facilities master plan called for construction of a new Kalispell library.

The consultants based their recommendation for new libraries on a square-footage standard of 0.7 square feet of public library space per capita. The Kalispell library’s service area currently offers 0.45 square feet per capita, well below the benchmark.

The county once had a new Kalispell library as an unfunded $16 million earmark in its capital improvement plan, but it’s not in the current five-year plan of capital projects, county Administrator Mike Pence said.

“It definitely is noted for down the road,” Pence said, adding the funding for a new Kalispell library likely would come from a bond issue and library fundraising.

Kalispell’s core and rail redevelopment plan, now on the cusp of happening since Glacier Rail Park was established, aims to revitalize and redevelop the city’s original downtown areas. It envisions a scenic pedestrian and bike trail along the railroad bed that would provide connectivity throughout the downtown area.

That plan bodes well for having a new library as a public centerpiece along the trail, Crowley said.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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