The Hamline Midway Library building will check out its last book on May 27 and close on May 28, 2023. The historic building will be demolished and replaced with a new structure. Once closed, staff will move books and materials into storage, and begin removing other items over the next few months. Construction on the new building is expected to begin this fall and take up to 18 months.
St. Paul Public Library (SPPL) invites community members to check out books, DVDs, and more from Hamline Midway Library shelves and keep them for the duration of construction and return them to the shelves once the new library opens.
The SPPL Bookmobile will continue to make stops in the Hamline Midway neighborhood, including at Hamline Hi-Rise, Victoria/West Nevada, Lyngblomsten Apartments senior residence, and a new weekly stop at Hamline Hancock Recreation Center.
Library administration sent out the notice on May 4 about the upcoming closure. While that will please those who want a new facility, it will disappoint others who fought hard to save and renovate the current library.
On May 4, several dozen area residents gathered to speak about their desire to preserve the building and to give it a symbolic hug.
“Proponents of preservation have been repeatedly ignored during the past three years, with no acknowledgment by city officials of the community’s widespread support for preservation – as evidenced by dozens of pro-preservation comments in 2021 during the CIB funding process, thousands of signatures on online petitions urging that the library be saved and renovated, and the hundreds of people who showed up at information sessions and rallies to advocate for preservation,” stated Renovate 1558, a group dedicated to preserving the Henry Hale Memorial Library building.
Beth Burns, president of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, said, “We are thrilled to see this project move forward as part of a holistic vision to transform libraries across Saint Paul. We represent thousands of library lovers who donate and advocate on behalf of our library system so that each branch can be a welcoming, safe, joyful, and inspiring space for every person in Saint Paul.”
The decision to close the library was announced May 4 along with renovation plans for the Hayden Heights and Riverview libraries were also announced on May 4, as part of the Transforming Libraries initiative.
Hamline Midway has had almost 3,000 people weigh in this year during discussions of the library’s future through a series of virtual and in-person open houses, pop-up events, community meetings, and surveys. That’s the most input among the three neighborhood branch libraries.
When the city undertook the Transforming Libraries initiative for Hamline Midway, Hayden Heights and Riverview, staff and consultants talked to library users about what they want and need in library facilities, said former St. Paul Public Library Director Catherine Penkert.
Penkert described all three libraries as “well loved, well used and well worn.” The library had not seen significant improvements in many years. Transforming the libraries means reimagining their spaces for today’s and future users.
Part of the vision that emerged for the three branch libraries is to see them as neighborhood resilience centers, places with many uses and resources for their neighbor.
For Hamline Midway, four options were presented earlier. Those were narrowed to two, one for building renovation and expansion, and the other for a new building on the current site at 1558 Minnehaha Ave. The options are within an $8.1 million budget.
The option of a new building was chosen over expanding and renovating the current structure. The new library would have 9,400 square feet, which is 5,200 square feet more than the existing building. The renovation option would have meant a facility of 6,200 square feet, or 2,000 square feet more than the current building.
In a statement, Renovate 1558 group members said: “We, at Renovate 1558, are saddened but not surprised that the St. Paul Public Library (SPPL), with the support of Mayor Carter, Council member Jalali, and the Friends of the Saint Paul Library, continue their push to senselessly – and needlessly – demolish the Hamline Midway Library, which three months ago was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). As we’ve documented extensively, there was a coordinated, secretive, and dishonest campaign by SPPL from day one to push through this demolition, actions that completely disrespect the will of the community and the city’s own comprehensive plan, which stresses the importance of preserving historic public buildings. ...
“Suggesting that demolition is the only available choice is a travesty, given that the city itself commissioned a renovation option that would preserve, modernize, and expand the existing building. Additionally, city officials have refused to consider a relocation of the library, possibly adjacent to the Hancock Recreation Center, an option that would better serve the community on a number of levels, including the possibility of repurposing the existing library rather than knocking it down. Preservation rather than building anew is also the far better environmental choice, the more cost-effective alternative, and the option that best represents the wishes of community members.
“Clearly, demolition is the most divisive option.”
ACCESSIBILITY and HISTORY
Two strong themes heard at Hamline Midway were those of access and equity, Penkert said. That will mean moving most library functions to one level and having the main entrance be fully accessible. She called accessibility “absolutely critical” when looking at building design, saying neighborhood residents who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues have been unable to use the library.
The final design for a new Hamline Midway Library includes features such as an outdoor reading garden, an interactive children’s area for learning through play, a teen area, study rooms, two community meeting rooms, a wellness room, and space to feature public art that connects the library to the variety of cultures represented in the Hamline Midway neighborhood. The one-story layout maximizes accessibility and provides additional safety with low shelving, strong sightlines, and all amenities on one floor.
A preserved stone arch entryway and cornerstone will lead to a meeting room, salvaged brick will be incorporated in the interior, and salvaged wood from the stage will be used in the community room. The existing mosaic above the fireplace will go above a new sustainable fireplace. The diamond brick pattern discovered in the existing library’s original 1929 draft documents will now provide a unique look to the new library’s exterior.
“We are deeply committed to building a new Hamline Midway Library that will allow us to equitably serve everyone in our community, especially those who are not currently using the library,” said Interim Library Director Maureen Hartman.
could things have been done differently?
When asked if anything could have been done differently during the Hamline Midway Branch Library planning process, Penkert cited the pandemic as a challenge to seeking continued neighborhood input. Library administration presented plans for Transforming Libraries to city council members in early March 2020, just before everything shut down. Ways to engage community members had to change.
“There was no roadmap,” Penkert said. She gives credit to library staff and community members for participating in a lot of engagement events.
The challenges in gathering input were weighed against the need to make library improvements, and meet timing of the city’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process itself. Had the libraries’ request been delayed, that would have meant a wait of at least two more years, she pointed out.
“This important new community resource represents four years of listening to community members to shape the vision of a space for families and children. The Midway neighborhood has endured significant challenges while remaining one of the places in the city with the fastest-growing population of kids and families,” said council member Mitra Jalali. “This critical city investment is long overdue.”
history of libraries
What began as the Hamline Library opened in October 1930 after years of neighborhood activism to get it built. The lots it was built on were purchased thanks to neighborhood donations, in 1922. But delays on the city’s part and litigation involving the Hale estate took time.
Hamline was one of the city’s two Henry Hale Memorial Branch libraries. The other, in Merriam Park, was built in 1930 and replaced in the early 1990s due to unstable soils.
Hamline has also had foundation problems. More than $400,000 has been spent over the past 4.5 years to try to fix water infiltration problems. The building was officially designated a National Registrar of Historic Places site on Jan. 31, 2023. The listing does not preclude SPPL from moving forward with a new library.
The other two libraries will be renovated. Hayden Heights, which opened in 1979, will benefit from interior and exterior renovations that including adding large windows on its White Bear Avenue side. It also will gain outdoor green space, off of its children’s area.
Riverview, a Carnegie Library built in 1916, will have an addition built on its west end. The building will have exterior and interior renovations, with main uses on one floor. Its front steps will be turned into a reading plaza where people can read or use their devices to work and study. Outdoor programming space will also be enhanced. Penkert noted that one lesson of the pandemic is the need for outdoor learning and activity spaces at libraries.
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