Following Lead of City Redevelopment Plan, Kalispell Library Considers New Facility

ImagineIf Library Board of Trustees to fund feasibility plan studying two potential properties

By Dillon Tabish
ImagineIf Library in Kalispell on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

With the downtown Kalispell library often bursting at the seams, the ImagineIf Library Board of Trustees is moving forward with plans that call for building a new facility.

The board is working with Montana West Economic Development to pursue a grant that would cover half the cost of a $40,000 feasibility study centered on developing a new site at one of two proposed locations.

“We’re over capacity in the Kalispell space,” Charlotte Housel, executive director of the ImagineIf Library Foundation, said of the 29,000-square-feet facility on First Avenue East.

“There is more space needed for children’s programs, and more space for teens and adults. There’s a lot that a modern facility can offer that the current space can’t.”

Housel said the library continues to experience growing visitation on an annual basis and popularity is high among its various programs, such as children’s reading programs.

“With the valley’s population swelling, that’s not a trend that will be reversing,” Housel said.

As Kalispell begins implementing its core area redevelopment plan, which will include replacing the downtown railroad tracks with an extensive trail system, the library board hopes to play a role in the revitalization efforts by constructing a new facility near the new pathway.

One location being considered is the CHS property on Fourth Avenue East North across from Smith’s. CHS is planning to relocate all of its facilities to a new industrial rail park being developed off Whitefish Stage Road, and part of its deal to obtain a new building in the rail park, MWED is gaining its downtown properties.

Another proposed location for the a new library is behind Smith’s where Kalispell Medical Equipment is currently located, according to library foundation officials.

Library officials hope to begin the feasibility study in the coming months with the goal of receiving an idea for how much a new facility would cost.

The new library would be funded by a mix of public and private funds, according to foundation leaders, and the public portion would require approval of a county bond measure.

The vision for a new downtown Kalispell library is years in the making. In 2014, the library’s board of trustees approved a new master plan that called for expanded facilities at the library branches in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Bigfork. The foundation hired a Wisconsin-based library consulting firm to study the situation, and it found that the libraries had not expanded since 1990 while visitation at the sites has skyrocketed.

The study determined that the Kalispell facility, which is 29,000 square feet, should be closer to 49,000 square feet to accommodate the various programs and uses that have become integral to the library’s services.

Housel, who recently took over as executive director, said she was very impressed with the ImagineIf system when she arrived in the Flathead Valley. In a digital age, when widespread technology may seem to downplay the role of traditional libraries, the Flathead sites have adapted and remained relevant to residents of all ages and economic backgrounds, Housel said.

“As free public spaces disappear, libraries are becoming more and more important,” she said.

The Montana Library Association named ImagineIF Libraries the Library of the Year in 2015.

Correction (Feb. 20): The ImagineIf Library Board of Trustees, not the foundation as the article previously stated, is partnering with MWED for a feasibility study and securing funding for that study.

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