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New Ellsworth library, and concerns over its price, discussed at village meeting

The price tag of a possible new Ellsworth Public Library dominated the conversation at a village committee's informational meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4.

About 25 people attended the meeting, where various plans and costs, which would be split between the village and $2 million in library fundraising, for a new library were discussed. The costs ranged from $7.5 million for renovating the existing library on 312 W Main St., to $3.7 million for a variation of renovating the BMO Harris Bank building at 388 W Main St.

The BMO building has been looked at as one of the best sites since about 2015, due to its large square footage and central location in the town. A non-binding November referendum used information based on the BMO Harris plans, and showed a slight majority of the community supported taking on a village loan to help fund a new building.

"I feel like it's the best cost-wise," said Tiffany Meyer, the library's director, in a post-meeting interview. "We're looking at the best option we have right now."

While other building options were discussed at the meeting, the lowest priced options all revolve around the BMO site — building purchasing costs were not included — but board trustees expressed concerns over the price tag.

"It's going to take a lot of figuring, we're going to have to look at a lot of number to see if we can get it to work out," said Curt Wandmacher, who chairs the village finance committee, in an interview after the meeting. "If we go with any of (what was presented) that'd be too much."

Architects from Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Design presented on the various plans, and detailed two different plans, among others, for the BMO building. One would renovate the entire 19,000-square-foot building, with an estimated cost of about $4.9 million. The modified BMO plan would only renovate the main floor of the building, at about 11,850 square feet, and costs were estimated at $3.4 million.

"It's all about making the needs of the library and finding the best fit," said Paul Bauer, who heads the library's building and space committee, in an interview after the meeting. "It may or may not be the BMO building, but they certainly have been gracious to work with, so at least we have an option on the table that would meet everyone's needs."

BMO would remain working in the library in the proposed plans, but the library would use the majority of the building. Bauer said at the meeting that BMO was not prepared yet to make the price of purchasing the building public.

At the meeting some board members asked if other locations could be options, however, Bauer said that there weren't available properties large enough to house a new space.

"There just isn't (another) site that is big enough around to fit a library plus parking," he said at the meeting.

Meyer was asked by Village President Gerald DeWolfe how a new library at the BMO building would affect the operational budget. She said that was a non-issue from a staff standpoint, because the new library's operations would remain on one floor.

Bauer said at the meeting it's difficult to secure funds without being able to present a preliminary building plan, requiring village board action, and could entail renderings and other more specific information that could help entice potential donors.

"I'd like to know what the next steps are as far as the committee is concerned," Meyer said. "I'm feeling hopeful but it continues to be out of my hands at this point ... it depends what the (board) decides to do."

The library and the village have looked into a building a new library since 2012, when the village appointed a committee to look into building upgrades, and a prior report recommended upgrading the current space to a 13,000- to-16,222-square-foot library.

MSR Design also presented a cost breakdown for building at Summit Park, with estimated costs at $6.6 million, and detailed how Crossing Meadows was initially thought of as a strong site in 2013. It was later left out due to its non-central location in Ellsworth.

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