Library Master Plan Calls for New Facilities, Expansions

Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Bigfork sites are not big enough, according to report

By Beacon Staff

The Board of Trustees for ImagineIF Libraries recently approved a new master plan, which calls for expanded facilities for the library branches in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Bigfork.

During its June meeting, the board approved the 2014 Facilities Master Plan, which was created after ImagineIF, then known as the Flathead County Library System, hired Wisconsin-based library consultants Himmel and Wilson to study the libraries’ facility needs.

Given that the libraries have not expanded since 1990, continual population increases in the Flathead will continue to bog down the library system, the study showed.

When the Whitefish library was part of the Flathead County Library System before breaking off to form the Whitefish Community Library in 2011, there was a total of 46,763 square feet of library space available to the public when taking into account all branches.

This is the same space that served the 1990 population of 59,545 and the 2014 population of 95,188, which includes Whitefish.

“If library space remains unchanged, the Flathead County Library System will have only 0.36 square feet per capita of library space in 2034,” the report stated.

According to the study, the statewide ratio of library square feet per capita is .75 in 2014. The consultants eventually determined that the libraries in Flathead County should add .7 square feet of space per capita.

The libraries in Kalispell, Bigfork and Columbia Falls were targeted for replacement, since they are “undersized, landlocked and lack parking.” There was no expansion recommended for the Marion branch.

The current Bigfork branch is 1,440 square feet, and the consultants recommended that it be increased to 6,198; Kalispell’s current library is 29,000 square feet and a new building size was recommended at 49,222 square feet; and Columbia Falls, currently at 4,723 square feet, should be expanded to 12,993 square feet, the consultants said.

In the report, the consultants outlined costs associated with the suggested new libraries. For a new Kalispell library as specified in the report, it would cost $15,080,458. The Columbia Falls library would cost $4,080,099 and Bigfork would cost $1,953,236.

However, the consultants deemed the number of library branches in Flathead County adequate because nearly all residents in the county are within 15 minutes of a public library facility.

When the ImagineIF Board of Trustees voted to approve the 2014 Facilities Master Plan, it became part of the Fiscal Year 2015-2017 Strategic Plan, which outlines the libraries’ goals.

One of the overall objectives in this strategic plan is to open new facilities in Bigfork, Columbia Falls and Kalispell by June 30, 2018.

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