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Flathead County

ImagineIF Board, Staff Visit Possible Relocation Site

The former Herberger’s location in the Kalispell Center Mall is on a short list of potential future homes for the library’s main branch

By Micah Drew
The defunct Herberger’s department store in downtown Kalispell on Feb. 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Members of the ImagineIF Libraries board and staff toured a potential new location for the main Kalispell branch on Feb. 8. The former Herberger’s space at the Kalispell Center Mall, an 80,000-square-foot site, is for sale and checks a lot of boxes for a new library space.

At the board’s monthly meeting on Jan. 26, members discussed the need for a new facility. The library’s main branch leases space from the Kalispell Public Schools district office at its current location on First Avenue in downtown. The lease is up in 2033, and not owning the space has prevented board members from wanting to spend too much capital on necessary upgrades.

“We need to look to the future,” board chair Doug Adams said at the meeting. “It’s not a minute too soon to see what we want to do with the future Kalispell facility.”

Adams listed the options he considered to be on the short list  – buy the current building from the school district, revisit a location in the Gateway West Mall, which the county has the chance to purchase cash free, find a new property and build from scratch, or buy the old Herberger’s location.

ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on March 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

During discussion over the future of the Kalispell branch, the Herberger’s site has been tossed out as a possibility ever since it was vacated in 2018.

“Every time I walk or drive by, I think what a shame it is that it’s been empty for so long and I know I’m not alone,” said board member Jane Wheeler. “Of all the options, I think it would have the most public support.”

Wheeler said last week’s site visit was “enlightening,” and the location offered lots of possibilities. Adams said a possible acquisition would likely include purchasing just half of the facility to meet the needs of the library, but there are many different ways to configure a potential layout.

“It was exciting to see it in person and there’s a lot of good things there,” he said. “The proximity to the walking path is good and it has all the parking you could ask for. It’s definitely worth exploring as an option, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

During the January board meeting, Adams said he’s always thought that Herberger’s would be an “ideal location” for the main library, even more so since the Parkline Trail was completed.

“I would like to move forward in a direction,” Adams said. “If that direction does not work out, we can turn around together to a different direction, but at least it won’t be three years from now where we’re still talking about what we’d like to pursue.”

Adam Tunnell, executive director of the ImagineIF Foundation, told the board that while finishing the fundraising and remodel of the new Bigfork branch is the foundation’s priority, he expects they will be able to get behind a future capital campaign for Kalispell.

 “The huge hurdle that we’ve known about from the beginning is raising funds,” Adams told the Beacon following the site visit, adding that the board would look at all funding options, including grants and low-cost loans from the state, for whatever option they eventually settle on.

“If the community wants it badly enough, I think they’ll come together and help fund it with us.”

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