The ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted at its June 23 meeting to accept the transfer of The Ark building to house the Bigfork branch of the library system.
The Bigfork property has been in discussions among the trustees, the Flathead County commissioners and the ImagineIF Library Foundation since 2018, when the foundation initially bought the building, making last week a monumental leap forward in the process.
“I feel like there should be come kind of celebration,” Trustee Chair Heidi Roedel said after the vote, inviting all present to do a “happy dance.”
Over the years the Flathead County Commission has been reluctant to accept the property, citing fiscal concerns over maintaining the building. However, under Montana Code Annotated (MCA), library trustees are able to accept property on behalf of the local governing body, in this case the county.
The Bigfork branch will be the first property owned by ImagineIF Libraries — all other branches are rented facilities, which commissioners have previously stated is a preferred avenue for the libraries.
The deeded transfer of the building is expected in roughly three years, following the final fundraising phase of the capital campaign and renovation work on the property.
The foundation is more than halfway through the $1.6 million funding goal that will cover the building’s remodel. Construction is expected to begin once the campaign surpasses $1.2 million.
“We’ve been working to get this agreement in place so we can begin that campaign again,” Foundation Executive Director Adam Tunnell said, adding that between the COVID-19 pandemic and the unknowns surrounding the transfer agreement stalled fundraising over the last two years.
Trustee Doug Adams has been a primary liaison between the board and the county commissioners and stated that while they told him there was no objection to the trustees accepting the building, they are not in favor of increasing the library’s budget.
“If we’re going to do it, we have to be committed to do it without any assurance that we’re going to get extra funding from the county for operational expenses there,” Adams said. “I just wanted some reassurance from [the commissioners] going forward, I did not get that reassurance.”
Library Director Ashely Cummins said that while it was disheartening to hear that budget increases might not be approved for the project, she believes the library will be able to make ends meet.
“I also feel like we have three years to work towards a better future in that regard, so I’m not discouraged it,” Cummins said.
The current Bigfork library branch is housed in the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center on Electric Avenue and takes up just 1,440 square feet, has limited parking and isn’t ADA compliant, making it nearly inaccessible to patrons with physical limitations. The library’s in-house collection is currently just over 4,000 items, and there’s no extra space to serve as a public meeting location.
By comparison, the new building is a 6,000-square-foot building just off Montana Highway 35 that will allow the library’s collection to triple as well as house meeting space and additional module study rooms.
To learn more about the project, see renderings of the building or donate to the capital campaign visit www.imagineiflibraryfoundation.org/newbigforklibrary.
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