On Aug. 6, the Flathead County Commission voted unanimously to pull the new Columbia Falls library project from the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, citing questions over purchasing the Glacier Discovery Square building from the nonprofit First Best Place group.
Earlier this summer the Flathead County Library Board discussed taking over ownership of the building, which was originally built as a bank, to house the Columbia Falls library. The county-operated Columbia Falls library is currently in the tight confines of City Hall.
Flathead County Library System Director Kim Crowley said the library board has $100,000 set aside and designated for a new facility in Columbia Falls. She said that money, combined with funds raised by the Flathead County Library Foundation and First Best Place, could cover the cost of purchasing and renovating the building. Crowley estimated the entire project would cost $1.2 million.
“If we can get a whole new library for $100,000 of taxpayer money, we should explore that,” she said. “To just say no to the entire project doesn’t show a lot of vision.”
But the county commissioners were concerned about the costs of maintaining the building in the future and where that money would come from. Commissioner Pam Holmquist said the library board needs to come up with a solid plan before anything else happens.
“I just don’t think the county can take on a project like that right now,” Holmquist said. “I don’t see the plan; I don’t see the funds. I guess I just don’t see it.”
Connie Leistiko, chair of the library board, said a new facility in Columbia Falls is one of three infrastructure projects needed within Flathead County’s library system. Like Columbia Falls, the libraries in Kalispell and Bigfork are experiencing an increase in use and soon will not be able to handle the added capacity. She said the library system has seen more than a 50 percent increase in usage in the last five years.
“We all are trying to work together to solve a problem of limited space and a growing program,” Leistiko said.
With the Columbia Falls project removed from the Capital Improvement Plan, the library board will have to wait until next year to resubmit it to the county. Crowley said she expects the board to start looking into questions of how to pay for maintenance and hopes the prospect of moving the library to Glacier Discovery Square is not off the table.
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