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Kalispell Library, School District Consider Options to Relocate

ImagineIF Library Board seeking funding for Herberger’s location while Kalispell Public School District 5 approved a lease agreement south of town

By Micah Drew
ImagineIf Library in Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

In the near future, the historic building on the corner of 1st Avenue and 3rd Street East might have entirely new tenants, as both the ImagineIF Libraries and Kalispell Public School District are looking to relocate. 

Discussions among the ImagineIF Board of Trustees over the possible relocation of the main Kalispell branch continued at their Feb. 23 meeting. The trustees have previously discussed several potential options for upgrading the Kalispell facilities, including purchasing their current building, acquiring land to build a brand-new library, or purchasing space in the Gateway West Mall or Kalispell Center Mall. 

The latter option has gained the most traction among trustees. The former Herberger’s location on the west side of the mall has been vacant since 2018 and offers up to 86,000 square feet of space for lease or purchase. 

Board member Jane Wheeler said she was impressed with the potential during a recent tour of the Herberger’s site, and said the owners mentioned another possible buyer interested in half of the space, which could benefit the library. The cost of the full building is roughly $10.5 million. 

Trustee Chair Doug Adams advocated for looking into purchasing a portion of the building, as opposed to a lease agreement, saying it made more sense as a nonprofit, and suggested looking at a $2 million loan option, with the goal of fundraising the remaining costs.  

Adams said in conversations with the county administrator, he didn’t get the impression that the county commissioners would be amenable to a large Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding request. The county commissioners have previously stated they did not want to own a library facility, though the new Bigfork library branch, which was gifted to ImagineIF by the library’s nonprofit fundraising partner, will be a county-owned building. 

“Maybe it’s a nonstarter, but is it a fair request we can justify? Yes, it is,” Adams said. “We would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t ask.”

The trustees unanimously approved a motion to submit a CIP budget request to the commissioners to cover the loan amount over a five-, 10- or 15-year time frame to be used for either Herberger’s or an alternative location for the Kalispell branch. 

The library’s lease with its current Kalispell location is up in 2033, but its current neighbors in the historic building, Kalispell Public Schools (KPS), might be vacating the premise much sooner. 

At its Feb. 14 meeting, the KPS school board signed a letter of intent to lease space at 1935 3rd Ave. E. for 15 years with the option to purchase the property. 

The 30,000-square-foot-space would be far more accommodating than the district’s current central office space in the upstairs of the ImagineIF Kalispell library, which district Superintendent Micah Hill said was given an “F” grade in regard to health and safety. KPS currently owns the building.

The new space would be ADA accessible, have increased parking and green space outside the building. There would also be enough room to allow the district to house auxiliary services such as staff daycare, a facilities and maintenance department, an employee health clinic, curriculum services, staff training, a K-8 Community Involvement Coordinator and a Health, Wellness and Suicide Prevention Coordinator among others, according to a pro/con list presented by KPS administrators. 

Under the lease agreement, the district would pay $40,000 per month, with a 2% increase per year. A portion of each month’s rent would go toward a potential purchase, if the district decided to buy the building outright. Before making a final purchase, the district would have to put the acquisition to a ballot measure.  

The property is owned by Hollinger Family Limited Partnership and sits on 2.3 acres across from Lions Memorial Park, on the south end of Kalispell. 

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