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Board rejects moving Kalispell branch to Gateway Community Center

Daily Inter Lake | October 21, 2022 12:00 AM

The Kalispell library isn’t moving — yet. ImagineIF Board of Trustees voted at a special meeting on Thursday to turn down an offer to move into the Gateway Community Center.

Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson began discussion by making a motion to “politely decline” the county’s offer to move the library into the center.

The center, formerly known as the Gateway West Mall, houses many organizations and businesses, including the Northwest Montana United Way and the Flathead Food Bank. Flathead County Commissioners suggested the space to several organizations, including the Kalispell Senior Center who also declined to move into the building.

The space is around 60,000 square feet in total, the library would have occupied approximately 40,000 square feet, sharing the rest of the space with other county entities.

Still, the location and several other factors dissuaded trustees from making the move.

Recently appointed Trustee Jane Wheeler said the building is not a good fit and public opinion should be involved more before making a big move.

“I want probably as much as everybody for us to be able to get out of the building that was not designed as a library,” she said, referencing the library’s current home on First Avenue East. “But I think that we need to really get together and make something wonderful for where we would go in a place that we want to be. And although that facility of Gateway looks so much better than what we have right now, there's just too many other things that just don't work in that facility.”

Board Chair Doug Adams and Trustee Heidi Roedel voiced concerns about the move potentially taking away from the ImagineIF Library Foundation’s efforts to raise the remaining funds of the $1.6 million estimated to turn the Bethany Lutheran Church Ark Building into the new Bigfork library building. Fundraising for the effort sits just above the halfway mark.

Adams said he wants to focus on completing that project before focusing more money and attention on a new Kalispell building.

“I think that is the priority right now, and I do not want to dilute that effort. I think that the foundation board feels the same way — as they should. So, to me, it is more an issue of timing. If we put all our efforts into Bigfork and get that money raised and get that facility up and running, we could then do something for Kalispell after that,” Adams said.

Board Co-Chair David Ingram voiced concern about the finances of making the move to the Gateway Community Center. Ingram said he was dissuaded by an ongoing maintenance fee for the building’s communal space, which he said would come at a “significant cost” to the library. Adams said with the library’s current budget, they would have an $105,000 annual shortfall if they moved into the building.

Several board members, as well as those who participated in public comment, said the Gateway Community Center was too far away from the center of town, where people could safely walk to the library.

Public comment suggested library patrons weren’t on board either.

“I'm really afraid that throwing good money after bad could result in going down this road and real fiduciary issues for the county,” Bruce Guthrie said. “So, I hope the process of investigation is going to be transparent. I hope the board is visionary and thinking in very, very long terms when it comes to creating the library that the county needs for the 21st century.”

The Kalispell library’s current location, a three story historic building in downtown, is leased by the county from Kalispell School District 5. The building has had many maintenance issues, is hard for staff to monitor and has been difficult to make ADA compliant.

While not interested in attempting right now to fundraise for a new location, Wheeler said she is interested in getting the ball rolling on a planning process by forming a committee to examine the different options.

Adams suggested reviving a capital campaign committee for the Kalispell branch.

The board has two meetings scheduled for next week.

The ImagineIF Board is set to discuss its donation policies at a special meeting on Oct. 25. The meeting is in the Kalispell library’s meeting room and begins at 11 a.m.

The board’s regular meeting is set for Oct. 27 at 9 a.m. at the Columbia Falls Fire Department, 624 First Ave W., Columbia Falls.

The board is set to discuss a book challenge for “Why Children Matter” by Doug Wilson. It was briefly discussed at September’s board meeting, but tabled for October until all trustees could read it.

In the complaint for the book, the challenger said the book warrants removal due to pedophilia allegations against the author, adding that is also poorly written. The book is described as a “Christian child rearing book,” and though it is seemingly used in many organizations’ teachings, it has also been criticized for the allegations against Wilson.