Library location decision delayed; Grand Forks Library Board to do more research

Library location decision delayed; Grand Forks Library Board to do more research

Grand Forks Herald

At the first hint that the Grand Forks Library Board wouldn’t be picking a new library location at its Wednesday meeting, there was a loud groan from an audience member.

“I’m not convinced, personally, that we have enough information to make a confident decision,” Library Board Chairman Brian Schill had said. “I’m wondering if we could have some discussion about that.”

Schill got what he was asking for. For the better part of the next hour, Library Board members debated whether they had enough information to move ahead with a plan to select either a downtown or midtown location for a new, roughly $22 million library.

The board ultimately voted 5-1 to hold off on making a choice. Instead, the library will create two committees, each of which will research the downtown location for the library and the proposed midtown area near Grand Cities Mall, then report back with full proposals to the Library Board on May 18. Either then or at a special meeting during the next several weeks, library officials are expected to make a choice.

The general consensus among those who voted for the measure was that there are too many questions around the project and that there needs to be more research on issues related to both locations, from how adaptable a new building in each area would be to how parking or public transportation access would work.

That is contrary to what was said at the board’s December meeting, where Library Board members agreed that a decision would be made on Wednesday.

“I woke up today excited, thinking ‘Today’s the day,’ ” Bret Weber, a member of both the Library Board and the Grand Forks City Council, said during the meeting. “And now I’m sitting here with my head in my hands, thinking, ‘We’re going to kick this down the road again.’ ”

But while Weber was reluctantly won over by what he framed as a prudent decision to do more research—saying he would rather “take the heat” for delaying a decision now rather than rush a long-term mistake—Library Board member Gary Malm wasn’t as convinced.

“I think when we get those two (committee) opinions in here, we’ll spend another year trying to figure out which way we want to go,” he said during the meeting, prior to a vote.

Corey Mock was the board member who made the motion to delay a decision, form committees and do research. He said that the committees will likely seek input from local landowners, city and library officials and architectural groups—everything that’s necessary to make detailed, well-rounded arguments for each location.

“We want to make sure we have all the information we need to make an informed and properly vetted decision so the community can feel confident,” he said.

He explained the importance of more vetting and support during the meeting, linking upcoming research to the need to build support for funding the library—a move that could potentially come with the plan’s inclusion in a 0.75 sales tax hike city leaders have said could be voted upon as soon as November.

“I really cannot see the community getting behind a theoretical building on a plot of land,” Mock said during the meeting. “It’s a void that our imaginations can’t fill. I think we can do better than that, so when we take this to the City Council, it’s not a plan, but a true proposal.”

For now, that means focusing on a location near the Grand Cities Mall or on the downtown parking lot between Fifth and Sixth Streets on DeMers Avenue. The latter is the leading site in the downtown area, Library Board Chairman Brian Schill said, though he acknowledged brief discussion at the meeting that other downtown locations haven’t been entirely ruled out.

Schill told the Herald that he shares the frustration of those who want to see a library plan move along more quickly—from Malm to the person who let out the groan of disapproval early in the meeting.

“I absolutely appreciate folks who are frustrated with the delay here, around the room and the community. I share that frustration. At the same time … we don’t have enough info, and in the long run, a generation from now, two or three months isn’t going to matter. We need to make the right decision.”

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