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Commissioners signal support for giving ImagineIF Libraries $2.5M for facilities projects

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 28, 2023 12:00 AM

Flathead County commissioners gave their blessing to a request from the ImagineIF Board of Trustees for the library system to receive $2.5 million over 10 years, though the county budget won't be finalized likely until August.

The funds are necessary for the eventual purchase of a new home for the Kalispell branch and other facility projects.

The request came out of the library’s annual budget process. Trustees originally requested $5 million, which broken down over 10 years would have resulted in a $500,000 annual commitment from the county.

Ahead of the announcement that the request had been accepted, ImagineIF Library Director Ashley Cummins told attendees at Thursday’s Board of Trustees’ meeting that she was hopeful commissioners would commit to some level of funding, even if not the full $5 million.

Cummins emailed the Daily Inter Lake later that afternoon announcing the funding at half of the original ask, meaning the library system would be allotted $250,000 annually from the county over a decade.

"This is amazing news,” Cummins wrote in an email. “Considering that only a few years ago, the commissioners publicly stated their opposition to ever owning library facilities — this feels like a major victory.”

With the Bigfork Library Project nearing the start of construction, facilities have been at the forefront of the trustee's minds in recent months.

The board recently learned that the lease for the library system’s current location in Kalispell, which is owned by the Kalispell School District, is up in 10 years. Adding to trustees’ concerns, school officials have announced that they are considering selling the property.

At last month’s meeting, trustees voted in favor of signing a letter of intent to purchase part of the Gateway Community Center, ideally as a temporary home for the Kalispell branch. County officials said the letter was necessary to begin discussing stipulations, of which ImagineIF trustees offered 16. Those stipulations included the county covering renovation costs, improvements to sidewalks and the parking lot, among others.

During Thursday’s board meeting, Co-Chair David Ingram said trustees learned after the fact that there is a purchase agreement on the building that runs until May 31. Because of this pending purchase, negotiations have stalled.

Ingram said the board’s original request for $5 million was based on the cost to renovate the former Herberger’s building, which has since been ruled out as an option for the Kalispell branch.

“That type of funding is the minimum and would be necessary. And we wanted to get that started as a gesture towards recognizing that we will need a future facility and to start planning for it as soon as possible,” Ingram said.

Trustees Carmen Cuthbertson and Jane Wheeler, both members of the board’s facilities committee, said they have identified eight properties for a new home for the library in Kalispell. Those options included undeveloped land, existing buildings and properties containing structures that would need to be removed to build a new library.

The ImagineIF Foundation is still in the process of funding the Bigfork Capital Campaign, which is close to the goal for starting construction. Cummins told meeting attendees on Thursday that she, foundation staff and members of the capital campaign committee are meeting with architectural firm Cushing Terrell and construction company Marco on May 31 to finalize the schematic design for the new Bigfork branch. She said this will give them a more clear idea about what to expect financially for the renovation.

Wheeler said she understood that the ImagineIF Foundation is dedicated to completing the Bigfork Library Project, but trustees should keep looking at options for the Kalispell branch.

“We remain cognizant of our obligation to support the success of the capital campaign by the ImagineIF Library Foundation for the renovation of the Ark Building in Bigfork. However, we feel that we must move forward to find a location for the main branch of the libraries, as we have already discussed many, many times: time is our issue,” Wheeler said.

ImagineIF’s third branch in Columbia Falls is also looking to eventually move into a new facility. That library is located inside City Hall and suffers space restrictions.

Ingram said money from the request would eventually transition into the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, along with a contribution from the library’s depreciation fund of $20,000.

The next ImagineIF Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for June 22 in the ImagineIF Kalispell meeting room at 6:30 p.m. Trustees voted to change the time and location of meetings during the summer months in order to give the public more opportunities to attend.