Plans to build a new Webber Park Library are moving ahead and it couldn’t be too soon. There was a celebration for the opening of the temporary Webber Library on Lyndale and 42nd on March 11, and the old library is scheduled to be torn down in April. In a show of good faith to move this project forward Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins and county staff from library and property services held a meeting at Folwell Park on Saturday March 8. It was the first of a series of meetings intended to collect information regarding our community’s needs in a library.
Trudy Richter of Richardson, Richter and Associates, facilitated the meeting. Although the meeting was announced post-publishing of the North and Camden newspapers, there was a good showing of local bibliophiles, including members of the Friends of Webber Park Library (FWPL), residents from Victory, Webber-Camden and Bottineau neighborhoods, and members of the former Webber Park Task Force, which worked hard to save the library from permanent closure in 2006. Also in attendance were members of the Hennepin County Library Board, Lois Langer Thompson Director of Hennepin County Library, State Representative Joe Mullery and City Council President Barb Johnson.
Hennepin County Property Services and Project Manager Valerie Carr gave an overview of the planning process. The intent is to take what is learned from community input and make a functional program, which considers the size, site and features of the building, as well as who will be served by the new library and what their needs will be. Carr said there will be opportunities for community involvement throughout the entire process, with two meetings scheduled at Folwell Park: Tuesday April 15, from 6-7:30 p.m. and Saturday May 10, from 9:30-11 a.m. The final phase will be to present a budget to the county for approval, with ground breaking and construction to follow. This will most likely be a multi-year process.
Community members were invited to join the Community Advisory Committee. Lois Lenroot-Ernt, HN County Capital Projects, gave an overview of the committee stating that the committee would examine the unique needs of the community and will be made up of community residents, members of FWPL, representatives from city and state government, and staff from Hennepin County Library. Questions that the committee will focus on include: How do we use our library now and how do we address future needs of our community?
Those present were invited to weigh-in on six questions: What one thing would you like us to know about the Camden Community? What services and building features would make you visit the library more often? What types of space are important to you? What services would attract people who don’t use the library now? What do you do when you come to the library? What services would attract people who don’t use the library now?
There were a myriad of responses to all of the questions. Some highlights include: People need good services and reasons to stay in this community. Maintain the name of the library – Webber – because it has special meaning to our community through the story of the original donors and the loss of their son John Deere Webber. Align the new library with the trails and easy walking access. Support e-book readers. Include spaces for students and children including group work areas, a story-time area, study carrels and tutoring areas. Include space for community meetings. For services people wanted a book club, coffee shop, free tax services, computers for job searches, homework helpers and more hours. Regarding design, many stated they want a building that fits in physically to the surrounding community and the use of green technology. It was also suggested that a room dedicated to telling the historical significance of the parkway be included in the design.
During the comments portion of the meeting a question was asked regarding the budget. Commissioner Higgins stated that there is an initial budget of $7 million to get the project started, but that the budget is fluid. A final budget for the project would be approved at the end of the study process. Val Holler, Patrick Henry teacher and Webber resident, expressed a concern regarding those not present and encouraged the county to reach out more broadly to constituents. Commissioner Higgins replied that this meeting was pulled together quickly because it had been three months since the last meeting, and she committed to a strong effort to reach out to the community at large for the future meetings. Victory resident Ann Kaari expressed concerns that there have been a lot of prior attempts to get this project off the ground and wanted assurance that this time it will be different. Commissioner Higgins replied, “You have a new commissioner now.”
In regards to the location of the new library, the county is moving forward with acquiring land at Humboldt and 45th Avenues, through purchase or eminent domain. Michael Noonan, Hennepin County Manager of Real Estate, stated that at this time the “Kowalski’s property has been taken off the market so that we have total flexibility.”
The next Webber Library meeting hosted by Higgins and Hennepin County staff, will be held at the Folwell Park gym, 1615 Dowling Ave. N., on Tuesday, April 15, from 6 to 7:30 pm and Saturday, May 10, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. These meetings will continue the planning process for a new library as well as update the community on the progress of the capital plan. All are welcome to attend and participate. The temporary library on Lyndale and 42nd is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.