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Library board end-around the right move for Bigfork

| June 26, 2022 12:00 AM

The ImagineIf Libraries board took matters into their own hands last week — and Bigfork locals are better off for it.

With the Flathead County commissioners unwilling to commit to taking ownership of the Bethany Lutheran Church Ark Building as the home of Bigfork’s new library, the board on June 23 voted to formally accept the transaction, leaning on a Montana law that allows library boards to acquire property in the name of the county.

It’s a deal that has been in the works for years.

The ImagineIF Library Foundation in 2019 spent nearly $500,000 to purchase the church and soon after launched a capital campaign to fund a remodel of the space. The foundation had hoped to gift the building to the county, but in a letter penned that same year commissioners indicated they “do not wish to own any library facilities in the name of Flathead County and will not fund any such acquisitions or their associated costs.”

There was reluctance on the board’s part to pull an end-around by circumnavigating the commission’s authority on the building proposal, but nearly three years later — and with half of the foundation’s $1.6 million capital campaign already in pocket — the board finally decided it was time to complete the long-awaited transfer.

“I know a lot of people have put work into it beyond when I came on the board, so seeing it my last three years and knowing that’s always something the board can agree on, we wanted to move forward with the project for the community of Bigfork,” Board Chair Heidi Roedel said.

It was the right move. Bigfork deserves a library facility that fits the growing community’s needs now and into the future. We also love the idea of repurposing a Bigfork landmark as a community-owned resource.

It’s disappointing that the commission wouldn’t get on board with this innovative private-public partnership, but there’s still time for the county to offer critical support.

Future funding for operations at the Bigfork branch remains a question. More space means more upkeep.

Now is the time for the county to offer some assurance that they’re willing to put some skin in the game to help offset increased operating expenses. Now is the time for commissioners to show that they really do care about investing in the communities they’re elected to serve.

Meanwhile, the private fundraising efforts march on. To learn more about the ImagineIF Library Foundation capital campaign for Bigfork, visit imagineiflibraryfoundation.org/newbigforklibrary or call 406-314-4082.

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