People in our community have been through many ups and downs regarding the little Webber Library; commencing with the cutting of hours at the start of this century, hitting the low-point with the one year closure from December 2006 until January 2008, and then the final closure this past July. If the one year closure was its nadir, the January 2008 reopening, with the announced $15 million capital plan for a new library was its zenith.
By the time you read this article, Webber Park Library should be reopened – again – at a temporary site. County Commissioner Linda Higgins hosted a community meeting at Folwell Park on September 30, to discuss the community’s concerns regarding the closed library. Shortly thereafter Higgins introduced a resolution for a temporary library at 4203 Webber Parkway, in Camden Center at Lyndale and 42nd. The lease agreement is for five years, December 1, 2013 through November 30, 2018. The lease may be cancelled after the third year with a 120 day written notice. The initial expenditures include $46,870 for the first year base rent, an additional $50,000 for leasehold improvements and $25,000 for a heating/cooling equipment allowance.
The resolution was adopted on November 5 and Hennepin County announced the library would be opening in late December, with a grand opening celebration on January 11. The Friends of Webber Park Library are working with county staff to plan a fun and meaningful event. The new location will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The temporary location will offer computers, a study space, a browsing collection and reserve book pick-up.
The fate of the Webber Park Library building has also been determined. It will be demolished and the land that it sits on will revert to the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB). The building repairs were estimated to be $325,000, which would only have returned the library to an adequate use status and would not have addressed long term building concerns. On December 3, Higgins introduced the resolution authorizing its demolition at an estimated cost of $130,000 using existing prior appropriations in the New North Library project. (The New North Library project is the name the county had given to the Webber Park Library capital project.)
The resolution also authorized executing a quit claim of the deed, returning the property to the MPRB upon completion of demolition. The county document regarding the resolution said that the MPRB had no interest in salvaging the building and preferred that the building be destroyed and the land reverted back to Webber Park. Friends of Webber Park Library President Mary Martinson spoke during the open forum portion of the meeting. She acknowledged the need to take down the building, but questioned whether or not there was a need to quit claim the property back to the park board at this time. She expressed concern that this would fully eliminate Webber Park as a future site for the new library. Friends of Webber Park Library Treasurer Kate Peterson also spoke regarding the quit claim, commenting on the uniqueness of having the library in the park and the 100+ year legacy of the Webber Park Library. Commissioner Callison offered an amendment that replaced the quit claim clause with a resolution that stated the building be demolished for safety reasons only, and left open the possibility of reconstructing a library on that site. The amendment failed by a 3 to 4 vote. The original resolution passed unanimously.
On December 10, Higgins introduced a resolution to amend the 2014-2018 capital improvement program to reauthorize the Webber Park Library capital project. The amendment authorizes county staff to restart the preliminary planning for the project and prepare a revised budget estimate for consideration of the County Board in 2014. The previously authorized Webber Park improvement project was terminated and the money was reallocated to the new library project. The resolution was amended to strike out the location of the new library.
However, on a separate resolution, the County Board voted 5-2 to authorize the County Administration to initiate acquisition of property located at 45th and Humboldt for the New Webber Park Library. At the Victory Neighborhood meeting on December 11, Commissioner Higgins said that all money is back in the capital project and the amount is just under $7 million. She cautioned that the project will probably take a couple of years or more to process and added that this fulfills the promise the County made when they took over the library system. Higgins stated that the amendment to acquire the property will start with an offer to purchase, but also could result in “condemnation,” known better as eminent domain. She said that she would hold meetings for community input on the project.
In a letter to the County Board, Fourth Ward City Council Member Barb Johnson expressed her enthusiasm for the actions of the County Board saying, “On behalf of my constituents in North Minneapolis, I am thrilled to learn that a new Webber Park Library is again being planned for our community!” She also wrote in support of building the new library adjacent to Victory Memorial Drive and Webber Parkway, and stated she would “begin the necessary work the City of Minneapolis will need to completely vacate the street and convey the land without cost.”
This fall has been a whirlwind of activity for Webber Library. If you desire more info, visit the county webpage.