One by one, past ImagineIF Libraries foundation members, trustees, donors and library staff took swings at a section of drywall in the Ark, a building in Bigfork set to become the new home for the county library system’s Bigfork branch.
Along with hoisting ceremonial scoops of dirt with the requisite golden shovels, attendees celebrated the groundbreaking of the new library, which is expected to open next June following extensive renovations.
“If you don’t drive in here to the parking lot and get excited when you see the construction equipment, then your heart is dead,” Bigfork Capital Campaign Committee Co-Chair Andrea Goff said. “There have been so many reasons for everybody here to throw in the towel, but because of who we are, we all have kept going … and that’s why it’s getting gone.”
The current home of the Bigfork library is within the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center on Electric Avenue and takes up just 1,440 square feet, has limited parking and isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making it nearly inaccessible to patrons with physical limitations. A new location for the branch has been in the works for years.
The ImagineIF Library Foundation, the fundraising partner for the library system, purchased the 6,000-square-foot building behind Bethany Lutheran Church on Montana Highway 35 in 2018, and began raising funds for renovations.
An initial fundraising goal of $1.6 million has since doubled due to construction costs, and the groundbreaking had been put off until a majority of the funds had been raised — a milestone that has now been surpassed with $1.9 million currently raised.
Several major donors were on hand during the ceremony including Bigfork resident Kay Stone, whose family donated $250,000 toward the construction in honor of her late sister, Laura Long, who passed away from breast cancer.
“Laura was absolutely a lifelong reader and lover of books,” Stone said. “If you talked to Laura she was always going to say ‘Oh, I just read this great book, you have to read or I just saw this great video documentary about the squids that you got to see because I’ve learned all these exciting new things. And that’s really what libraries are to our whole family — a whole lifestyle.”
A planned outdoor amphitheater-style patio will be named in Long’s memory and provide a space for the community to gather, which is a key aspect to the new library’s design, according to ImagineIF Foundation Executive Director Sara Busse.
“This space will be exactly what [the community] wants. We’ve listened to them and what they want is a place for the community to gather,” Busse told the Beacon. In addition to the outdoor gathering space, the design of the new branch includes a community meeting room, as well as an emphasis on spaces for kids and teens to address the increased growth in youth-focused programs seen at all branches in the library.
“It’s so important in today’s society that kids have a dedicated place to grow, explore and learn,” Busse said. “A new library in Bigfork benefits everyone and serves as a beacon for education, community and resilience for all.”
The Bigfork branch will become the first library property that is owned by the county, after the Foundation deeds the property over following the renovations. The ImagineIF Trustees agreed to accept the property from the Foundation last year, and have also allocated $70,000 for new materials and adjusted the library system budget to accommodate additional staffing needs at the new branch.
Even with a significant financial goal still in place to cover the renovations, Goff said the Bigfork community is fully behind the project and momentum is on their side.
“A library is great. Let’s build, let’s create and let’s get it done,” Goff said.
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