Bigfork library campaign crests $500,000 mark

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
For the Eagle | December 30, 2020 2:35 AM

The Campaign for a New Bigfork Library passed the fundraising landmark of half a million dollars this month.

As of Dec. 18, the initiative had collected $520,000 to bring a new ImagineIF Library to Bigfork. That’s approximately one-third of the total $1.6 million that is expected to be required to fund the purchase, renovation and equipping of a new library for the Bigfork community.

It’s a major milestone for the project, signaling the conclusion of the first phase in the campaign to give Bigfork a modern library.

The library’s Capital Campaign Committee tentatively expects the new library to open in 2022.

The drive to create a new Bigfork library was primarily spurred by space constraints in the current facility, located in the Bigfork Arts and Cultural Center.

At present, the Bigfork library takes up 1,400 square feet on Electric Avenue. The cramped quarters there have made it hard for visitors to find parking, for different groups to meet in the library, and for new items to get a spot on the shelves.

“The Bigfork library cannot meet the needs and interests of patrons because there's literally no place to put new materials,” said Connie Behe, Bigfork Library Director, in an email.

She said the library’s collection currently counts 4,200 items, but the new, 6,000-square-foot facility will be able to accommodate more than three times that amount, or about 13,000 items.

The extra 4,000-plus square feet in the new library will also help serve diverse needs that can’t be met in the existing space. Behe explained, “If several groups with different needs are all in the library at the same time, they are competing for the limited space. A person working on their resume, a group of young teens, and parents with toddlers all in the library at the same time becomes unmanageable and then the patrons don't get their needs met.”

And beyond the space constraints, the current Bigfork library faces additional challenges. Right now, the library is not ADA compliant, making it difficult or impossible for patrons with different physical abilities to access the materials. Behe said one patron with mobility issues often drives up to Kalispell to drop off her library books, because the drop box is frequently blocked by parked cars.

Behe added elderly patrons also have a hard time getting into the library, especially in the winter when the sidewalks are icy and there is no safe parking.

The new library, purchased from Bethany Lutheran Church in Dec. 2018, includes 6,000 square feet of indoor space, a shared parking agreement, and a .8 acre wooded lot large enough to accommodate a patio, gardens or outdoor play spaces, and an addition if needed.

The extra room will allow the library to expand programming, provide a free public meeting room and accommodate different types of activity at various noise levels.

It is located on MT 35, behind the Bethany Lutheran Church.

To make this vision a reality, the Capital Campaign Committee anticipates needing about $1.6 million, but fundraising has been slower than expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charlotte Housel, Executive Director of ImagineIF Libraries, was amazed at the way the community came together to reach the half-million-dollar landmark.

“Reaching this milestone is the result of a truly collective effort,” Housel wrote in an email.

She attributed this achievement to the dedicated volunteer work of the six-person Capital Campaign Committee, made up of Tom Snyder, Andrea Goff, Al Logan, Susan Kuhlman, Linda Ream and Roy Beekman, and the patchwork of local residents and organizations that have helped provide space for meetings and support for the project.

“The generosity and can-do attitude of this community is overwhelming,” Housel said. “It's a project that brings people together, not unlike the way a great library draws people closer. In a divisive and difficult year, it's been a real privilege to be working toward something that all kinds of people can unite behind.”

It isn’t just moral support that has helped move the project along. Three banks with Bigfork branches—Glacier Bank, Park Side Credit Union, and First Interstate Bank --made large financial contributions to the new Bigfork library during the initial major giving phase of development.

In addition, more than 200 individual donors have already contributed to the campaign, 70% percent of them first-time donors to ImagineIF Libraries. “Such a high percentage of new supporters is an indicator of the broad popular support this project enjoys in Bigfork,” noted a press release from the organization.

For many, the value of public libraries has been thrown into stark relief in the COVID-19 era. Libraries not only provide books to patrons, but also educational programming, access to technology, and a safe, warm place to go during the day. Those elements factor heavily into the plans for the new Bigfork library.

“Library leadership is committed to working with our architects to create a space that, beyond being welcoming, safe and cost-effective to maintain, can adapt to shifting needs over time, and the final design will reflect that,” Housel promised. ImagineIF Libraries are working with Cushing-Terrell engineering firm on the library design.

It’s also possible that the new Bigfork library could address the needs of seniors in the area by co-locating the library with a new Bigfork Senior Center.

“It's hard for me not to see a natural pairing between our needs for a larger facility and that of Senior Center because we have many senior patrons at the library,” noted Behe. “A facility that can accommodate seniors will be ADA compliant as well, and it creates a central location for intergenerational services.”

But that collaboration, she stressed, is ultimately up to the Flathead County Commissioners, not library leadership.

Behe continued, “However, that decision has to make sense to the community and the County Commissioners, in spite of its drawbacks. I don't envy the position the Commissioners are in; these are difficult decisions to make.”

Donors wishing to make a tax-deductible gift or pledge to the campaign can do so at www.imagineiflibraryfoundation.org/anewbigforklibrary .

A virtual walkthrough of the proposed library by Cushing Terrell is available at www.imagineiflibraryfoundation.org/anewbigforklibrary.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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The proposed interior of ImagineIF Bigfork Library.

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The exterior of the new home of the ImagineIF Bigfork Library is pictured Monday, Dec. 28. Bret Anne Serbin

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The proposed interior of ImagineIF Bigfork Library.