Northtown Library reopens, but some work remains

Riley Kunz, 12, woke up 6 a.m. Monday morning, July 14, and told her younger sister Eliza to hurry up and get ready. By 10 a.m., Riley, Eliza and their mother, Becky, were waiting by the front doors of Northtown Library, anxious to be the first people from the general public to walk through the doors of the renovated library that was closed for almost four months.

Arabella Leighton, 7, of Blaine, reads a book in the newly remodeled children’s section.

Arabella Leighton, 7, of Blaine, reads a book in the newly remodeled children’s section. Photo by Eric Hagen

The Kunz family soon discovered that they showed up two hours early. They thought the library would open at 10 a.m., but Northtown Library hours are the same as any other Anoka County library, which is noon to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 6 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. They did not want to drive back to their Mounds View home, so they waited as a line slowly formed.

When the clock struck noon, Northtown Library Branch Manager Ruth Hemingson opened the doors.

Library patrons immediately noticed that some of the walls in the lobby had been torn down and a glass wall had been installed to separate the children’s section, but still give the entrance area a more open feel than it had before. The colors of the new carpet and paint throughout the library are much brighter.

The bookshelves were rearranged to open up the center of the library to make room for a new reference desk and seating area with plush chairs. The old four-person desks will look familiar to regulars because they were saved from the old library.

While the shelves were saved, the wooden bookends that were 7 feet tall were cut to 5.5 feet so the top shelves would be easier to reach. Connie Winbauer, of Blaine, noticed this almost makes the library feel “much more open.”

Mary Sargent, of Blaine, and Mounds View resident Susy Hutchins were impressed with the number of computers. Assistant Anoka County Library Director Mary Snow said there will be 40 public computers and Wi-Fi access for those bringing their personal devices.

A corner of the library has dedicated computers for teenagers and reading material for this age group.

“It’s better than it used to be,” said Alex Moronge, 13, of Fridley, who visited the library Monday with his brother Lucky.

Northtown Library had approximately 250,000 visitors in 2013, the most of any Anoka County library branch. The half-million individual material items checked out ranked second behind Rum River Library, according to Anoka County Library Director Marlene Moulton Janssen.

Northtown Library regulars had to find new places to pick up reading materials or attend educational programming when the library was closed March 17 to July 14.

“During the four months that the (Northtown) library was closed, our overall library business did decline,” said Janssen.

Based on the raw data Janssen has seen, it appears the library branches of Crooked Lake in Coon Rapids, Johnsville in Blaine, and Mississippi in Fridley were busier than normal.

Winbauer chose to visit Half Price Books in Northtown Mall more frequently rather than find a new library.

Linda and Craig Marten, of Coon Rapids, went to Johnsville Library but prefer the larger Northtown Library because it is larger and thus has more books to offer.

Kristin Lackie tried the Rum River Library because her sister lives in Ramsey, but Northtown is closer to her Fridley home. She brought her 10-year-old daughter Tayah to Northtown Library the day it reopened.

“I was excited to see the new library and where all the books are,” Tayah said.

Although the Kunz family lives in Mounds View, Becky loved going to Northtown Library as a child, so it became the family’s library of choice. When it was closed, they went to Ramsey County’s public libraries in Mounds View and Roseville, which Riley thought was really nice because of the Dunn Brothers coffee shop. They also tried the Rum River Library in Ramsey.

Nevertheless, Riley did not get as much reading done as she would like.

“I’ve been bored out of my mind,” said Riley, who can read a “Harry Potter” or “Percy Jackson” book in one day as long as nobody is bothering her.

Northtown Library was originally scheduled to reopen by the end of June, but several factors delayed the opening to mid-July, according to Janssen.

There were delays in getting furniture and carpet from some of the vendors.

Asbestos was found in the vermiculite insulation in the lobby walls and had to be abated before the walls could be removed. Asbestos was also discovered in some of the old ceiling tiles, but the adhesive that traps the asbestos from becoming airborne and the fact that the new ceiling vents were moved to non-asbestos tiles meant this second impacted area did not need abatement, Janssen said.

New state fire codes required the addition of sheet rock walls in the second floor mezzanine that was once open to the public and is now an archive for old books and home appliance repair manuals dating back to the early 1960s.

Janssen said anyone who has watched home improvement television shows will understand that unforeseen complications often arise.

“Anytime you remodel a building that was built in the 1960s and only remodeled once, you have to plan for the unexpected,” Janssen said.

According to Janssen, Northtown Library was constructed in 1966 at a size of 18,500 square feet. A federal library services and construction grant covered half of the $300,000 cost.

It was expanded to approximately 38,000 square feet in 1991 and has not been touched since then. About 4,000 square feet is the mezzanine that was abandoned for regular use when the county decided not to pay for an elevator upgrade to this small space in 1991. However, Janssen said should future county officials want to open this second floor space to the general public, there is an empty area where a new elevator shaft could go.

Janssen said the most recent renovation did not expand the building footprint and cost $1.03 million, which is still below the original budget. County library funds will cover most of the costs, but a $150,000 state library grant from the Minnesota Department of Education will chip in.

County library staff said patrons will notice more work in the next few months until the grand opening celebration, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6.

For example, the new outdoor drop box will not be ready until this fall. The reference signs at the end of bookshelves are just pieces of paper right now. Not all computer terminals are set up. Geometric designs will be sketched on the glass wall separating the children’s area from the lobby. The county received a grant to put in a social skills play area in the children’s sections of four county libraries, including the Northtown branch.

“We decided it was functional enough that people could come in,” Snow said. “Summer is one of our busiest times of year, so we wanted people to be able to come in and appreciate the library.”

Eric Hagen is at
eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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