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Library board accepts building for Bigfork branch

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | June 23, 2022 3:45 PM

The ImagineIF library board voted on Thursday to accept the building that will become Bigfork’s new library.

Following the unanimous vote, Board Chair Heidi Roedel said she wanted to “happy dance.”

“I know a lot of people have put work into it beyond when I came on the board, so seeing it my last three years and knowing that’s always something the board can agree on, that we wanted to move forward with the project for the community of Bigfork,” Roedel said.

The ImagineIF Library Foundation has raised half of the $1.6 million needed to turn the Bethany Lutheran Church Ark Building in the new library, which will give the branch room to offer new services and an expanded collection. The project has been in limbo as Flathead County Commissioners had not been willing to commit to accepting the property, leaving some with doubts about whether the project would move forward. Commissioners also issued a letter in March requesting more information about the project.

However, under state law, library boards have the power to acquire property in the name of the county.

Foundation Executive Director Adam Tunnell said county officials wanted to clear-up some language in the agreement regarding operations and when the transfer would occur. Once renovations of the building are complete, he noted, the foundation will notify the library board and then the transfer would take place 30 days later.

“I know in my discussions with county commissioners there was confusion around when the actual transfer would be completed and then the expectation of the county performing the renovations, which was never in any previous discussions,” he said. “So, once we have finished the fundraising capital campaign and finished construction is when the transfer would happen.”

Tunnell said he believes it will take about a year to raise the funds needed to start construction and about three years until a transfer would take place. Construction is expected to begin once the foundation reaches $1.2 million in fundraising.

EVEN THOUGH the transfer agreement has been approved, future funding for operations at the Bigfork branch still remains a question.

Library Board Vice Chair Doug Adams said during his and Roedel’s meeting with the commissioners, they would not fully commit to funding the additional operating costs needed after the facility is completed.

“I wanted some reassurance going forward, I did not get that reassurance,” he said. “So the bottom line is, if we’re going to do it, we have to be committed to doing it without any assurance we will get extra funding from the county for operational expenses. We’re taking a little bit of a risk there.”

Library Director Ashley Cummins said she’s looked into the costs and isn’t deterred by a situation where the branch couldn’t increase the budget for the larger building.

“It’s a little disheartening to think that there won’t be additional budget increases for the project, but I think we can absolutely make it work if that’s the case,” she said. “I also feel like we have three years to work towards a better future in that regard. I’m not discouraged by it.”

Tunnell thanked trustees for the decision saying the foundation is ecstatic to be able to move forward.

“We’re excited to be able to provide the community of Bigfork and the Flathead Valley with the library facilities they deserve,” Tunnell said.

Foundation Executive Administrator Vanessa Barrett said the foundation has been waiting to select contractors and look at the specific aspects of the construction once the transfer agreement has been solidified. The foundation has promised to outfit the new library with new meeting rooms, ample parking, ADA compliant access and ample space for new programming with $70,000 worth of expanded collections for all ages.

Fundraising efforts have been “dead locked” because donors wanted to be sure that the building would be able to be transferred to the county, the foundation noted.