A fundraising campaign for a new Bigfork library is a third of the way to its goal, offering hope that work on the new site can begin in 2021.
In December, fundraising efforts surpassed the $500,000 mark, the first big milestone en route to a $1.6 million goal to fund the renovation and equipping of the new library.
“Everything has been pushed back a year later than we hoped since we lost the ability to really fundraise last year,” Charlotte Housel, executive director of ImagineIF Library Foundation said. “There’s so much more urgency now because COVID has highlighted the space concerns with the current location, and it drives home how badly we need to have safe spaces and ADA spaces in our community.”
As of Feb. 11, the library’s capital campaign had raised $560,000, with a joint pledge by three local banks — Glacier Bank, Park Side Credit Union and First Interstate Bank — helping push the effort over the first half-million dollar mark. Housel said she’s working to secure a matching donation that will boost fundraising efforts, but the deal was not official when the Beacon went to print.
What Housel thinks is most exciting about the fundraising effort so far is that 70% of donations are from individuals who have never given to the library before.
“We’re reaching people who haven’t had a role with the library before,” she said, emphasizing that the community has been pulling together for the effort.
The Bigfork library is currently located in the Bigfork Museum of Art and History on Electric Avenue and takes up just 1,440 square feet, has limited parking and isn’t ADA compliant, making it nearly inaccessible to patrons with physical limitations. The library’s in-house collection is currently just over 4,000 items, and there’s no extra space to serve as a public meeting location, which Housel says is important for the community.
“For the library, having space to spruce up the collection and really spread their wings will be key,” Housel said. “We want to bring what people can experience in Kalispell to Bigfork.”
The new location, which the ImagineIF Library Foundation purchased in 2018, is a 6,000-square-foot building behind Bethany Lutheran Church on Montana Highway 35.
Once donations and pledges surpass the $1.1 million mark, renovations will begin with tentative plans of opening the space in 2022.
With the extra 4,000 square feet, plans for the library include an expanded collection of more than 13,000 items, a common meeting space as well as additional module study rooms. Architecture firm Cushing Terrell recently released renderings and a virtual tour of the renovations, which can be viewed online.
Housel said $80,000 of the campaign is earmarked for collection expansion, which, in addition to being housed in Bigfork, will be available for the entire ImagineIF Library system, which includes locations in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Marion. There will also be a new “maker space,” which will house a 3D printer and expanded computer and software offerings.
Housel said it was exciting to finally be making progress toward the new library. The collection moved into its spot on Electric Ave. in the 1970s and was never intended to stay there.
“It was supposed to just be a stopgap measure,” she said. “That has been a make-do space for the last half century.”
In 2007, Flathead County proposed a new library in Bigfork, but voters twice rejected the bond that would have covered the cost of the project.
A study commissioned on the library system in 2014 found that without expansion there would only be 0.36 square feet per capita of library space by 2034, half of the statewide average ratio of 0.75.
“We have the lowest per capita spending on libraries among Montana’s cities,” Housel said. “There’s a dire need to invest in our libraries to bring them up to be the forefront of knowledge and technology like they should be.”
A big blow to the expansion process came in 2019, after the purchase of the new building, when the Flathead County Commission decided to remove a proposed Bigfork library renovation from the capital improvement program. That shifted the entire $1.6 million burden to the ImagineIF Library Foundation.
Nevertheless, Housel is optimistic that the fundraising efforts will pick up this year and that progress will continue.
“We’re hoping to show off the new space and do some small, COVID-safe open houses,” Housel said. “Lots of people are curious about the space and are ready to see it.”