City, citizens head to court over library demolition

Court rules that Hamline Midway Library is a natural resource

The debate over saving the Hamline Midway Branch Library continues. Preservations are celebrating a win in a Ramsey County District Court case centered on the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act and the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. That ruling sends the matter to trial in May.
The case was filed in summer 2023 in Ramsey County District Court. The group Renovate 1558 sued the city of St. Paul and St. Paul Public Library. The group wishes to block demolition of the historic Hamline Midway Library/Henry Hale Memorial Library before environmental reviews of the 1930 building are completed.
The library closed in May 2023.
The library honors Henry Hale, a St. Paul attorney who owned many properties in the city. Hale had a clause in his will that left a bequest for the City of St. Paul to use funds from his estate to build a free library and a free medical dispensary or hospital. 
The gift took longer to materialize than planned due to declines in the properties’ values. 
Architect Carl H. Buetow designed the library in 1929, providing three designs for city officials to choose from.
Construction on the new library building began in January 1930. Its formal dedication was held on Oct. 9, 1930.
City officials and supporters continue to call for a new library, saying the 95-year-old facility doesn’t meet modern user needs and lacks disability access.
Renovate 1558 has called for city officials to either renovate the library or sell it for reuse, and explore options to do so. The group contends that the city is planning to demolish the building while an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is pending. 
The city’s response was to file for summary judgment, asking that the case be dismissed with prejudice. That would mean that the court case would be permanently dismissed and could not be brought back to court again.
In mid-April, a Ramsey County District Court judge issued a ruling denying the city’s motion. That ruling included several conclusions. One is that the Renovate 1558 group has estimated what is called a prima facie case that the city’s plan to demolish the library would adversely and materially impact a natural resource as defined under the state environmental rights act.
The court also states that the physical structure known as the Hamline-Midway Library is a natural resource under state law.
Renovate 1558 leaders stated, “Obviously, we’re delighted with this outcome, and especially grateful to our pro bono legal team, led by attorney Cicely Miltich, for their excellent preparation work and effective presentation before the court in January. Thanks to their unwavering efforts, we now look forward to a trial in May in which the city has the burden of showing that renovation of the Hamline Midway library is not feasible – and that no other alternative use for the building exists.”
A library spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The preservation advocates continue to raise funds for court costs, filing fees and transcriptions, brought in more than $8,500 toward an anticipated need of more than $10,000. They continue to argue that replacing the library will cost more than the $8.1 million figure released in 2021.
They also added, “Most importantly, destruction of the current Hamline Midway Library will represent one more example where City Hall ignored the wishes of the community . . . “
A second court case was argued before a three-judge Minnesota Court of Appeals April 4, with a decision pending as of the Monitor deadline.
That case centers on the EAW that was completed to support the decision to demolish the library. The EAW’s key conclusion was that a more detailed study, called an environmental impact state or EIS, wasn’t needed. That decision is supported by the city. But preservation advocates in court criticized the record of decisions on library demolition, calling them insufficient.
The court is expected to rule within 90 days of hearing oral arguments.


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