Council, Library Task Force try to get on same page

The plot of land known as Heritage Green is seen looking southwest from Dellwood Street. This city-owned plot is again being considered as a location of the potential new library.

Bill Stickels III

The debate over where a potential new library in Cambridge would be located has once again been raised. During a recent Cambridge City Council planning session, there appeared to be a preference that, should financing via a city sales tax referendum be approved by voters this November, the new library be located on city-owned property in the Heritage Green area.

This preference goes against the recommendations of the Cambridge Library Task Force during the last referendum election in 2016. In that campaign, the Library Task Force originally opted to go with the Heritage Green location, but then changed its final recommendation after hearing from the Minnesota Design Team about the possible financial ramifications towards downtown businesses should the library be moved.

Based on this new, possibly conflicting opinion, the Cambridge Council and the Library Task Force got together for a joint meeting to try to come to a consensus opinion. During this meeting, held at Cambridge City Hall on Monday, Feb. 26, the debate between the two locations only seemed to get muddier in the eyes of some in attendance.

Additional expenses come to light

Before discussion began, City Administrator Lynda Woulfe provided the gathering with new information regarding the costs of buying up some of the neighboring properties in order to house the library at its current location.

“I had a meeting with one of the property owners that would be affected by the library because their building would be demolished,” said Woulfe. “They informed me that they would ask for not only the cost of the building, but $800,000 in relocation costs, plus lost income for the lifetime of the building

because they would be losing a lease.”

Additionally, a residential property owner is asking for the equivalent of four commercial lots instead of allowing their property to be valued as a residential property.

“Because of this, acquisition costs are going to tick up substantially,” Woulfe said. “So we would probably eat up a good $2 million, maybe even $2.5 million of the $8 million alloted to the library just in relocation costs.”

Same song, second verse

Much of the same arguments that were previously presented either for or against both locations were once again brought to light.

“I’m for the Heritage Green location,” said Council Member Lisa Iverson. “I think it would be an asset to young families with the ice rinks, the park and pickleball and tennis courts right there. We could have a nicer library for less money in Heritage Greens than what we would have if we built it in the same spot (where it’s currently located).”

Library Task Force member Vicky Sorn echoed Iverson’s thinking.

“I would not want to take that $2.5 million out and put a smaller library on that lot,” Sorn said. “It does not make sense. To me, you’re wasting taxpayer dollars; you’re not getting what you need. And this community deserves the best. This is a wonderful community. Don’t short-change the people that live here.”

Judith Kissner, however, still prefers the current location.

“Not one member of the Minnesota Design Team thought that it was a good idea to take the library out of downtown,” Kissner said. “And for a downtown that, quite frankly, has been on life support, to move the library would be devastating to the downtown businesses. I don’t know of any downtown business owners who would get on board with moving it to a residential area.”

Some inaccuracies clarified

One of the sentiments floating around is that Isanti County, which owns the current library building, is unwilling to put any money into the building, especially if the library were to be moved.

“We have not officially voted yes or no on that,” said Isanti County Commissioner Mike Warring. “We have discussed it and even had an architect come in for some renderings of remodeling the upstairs for the headquarters. So if the library is moved, we could renovate it if that is what’s decided with the Regional Library Board of Directors. (But) we would have to raise the rent if we renovated it.”

A decision needed soon

Although no consensus was made during the meeting, it was agreed that a decision needed to be made soon to avoid the confusion that was created in 2016 when the Task Force changed the recommended location just five months before the general election.

“We were all set with Heritage Greens the last time, and then the last few months we switched all of a sudden,” said Sorn. “And we were lost. We didn’t know what we were promoting and what we were trying to sell to the city and the voters. It was very frustrating for many of us.”

“What the council needs to hear from you (the Task Force) is what you prefer for a location,” said Woulfe. “They’re not saying ‘We prefer Heritage Greens.’ There’s just reasons why Heritage Greens is more economically feasible. What I’m hearing from the council is they are asking the Task Force, ‘Do you want to change your recommendations to the city council about the location of the library?’ Because you can’t start your marketing pieces until you know what location you are trying to sell to the community. That is the first question that gets asked is, ‘Where is it going to be?’”

Ultimately, it was decided that a final recommendation from the Task Force should be made at their next meeting on Monday, March 19. Since that meeting is right before the regular council meeting, their recommendation can then be put on that night’s council agenda. 

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