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Consultant says build library

The Fargo Public Library is smaller, has fewer books and about half the budget of most public libraries in similar-size cities nationwide. What's more: the Fargo library will need to double its space by 2008 if it's going to serve the city's grow...

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The Fargo Public Library is smaller, has fewer books and about half the budget of most public libraries in similar-size cities nationwide.

What's more: the Fargo library will need to double its space by 2008 if it's going to serve the city's growing population.

The Fargo Library Board is now debating how to make that happen.

Whether the main library will expand downtown or move where the people are -- Fargo's south side -- is the biggest issue facing the board.

A Minneapolis library consultant has been studying the issue since fall. Jan Feye-Stukas, representing Robert H. Rohlf Associates, was in Fargo Tuesday to go over her preliminary findings with the board.

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Her preference is for Fargo to build a new 45,000-square-foot library elsewhere downtown instead of renovating the library's 30,000-square-foot building at 102 3rd St. N.

If the library could be moved slightly west, it would be better used by people, said Feye-Stukas. The current site is a little out of the way for those working or shopping downtown, she said.

There are several better downtown spaces in which a library could be built, Library Director Charles Pace said. One possibility discussed Tuesday is the land across from the downtown bus depot along NP Avenue.

Library Board Member and Fargo City Commissioner Jean Rayl said the block is underused and "could pretty much be leveled."

Since more library services are needed for areas outside of downtown, the library also would need to lease about 15,000 square feet of space on Fargo's south side and about 5,000 square feet on the city's north side to meet community demands, Feye-Stukas said.

The library's Southpointe branch is 3,000 square feet. The library does not have a book collection in far north Fargo.

Feye-Stukas also suggested the library acquire land in southwest Fargo, possibly in collaboration with West Fargo, for a future 25,000-square-foot branch.

"Clearly, this is where the city is moving," she said.

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But no matter what option is chosen, the issue of parking at the downtown library will continue to be a problem, said board member Helen Levitt.

"It comes down to where are the people going to park," Levitt said. "That is the biggest obstacle of any of the plans for downtown."

Library Board Member Prakash Mathew said he would favor having the library's main branch, including its administrative offices, on the south side.

Not only is there more space to meet parking demands, but Fargo also has a growing population there, Mathew said.

The downtown library could still be used.

One problem with this option, however, is the city -- and the public -- might not support moving the main library branch, especially considering the on-going downtown revitalization plans, Rayl said.

"I would feel really bad if we moved the main library branch out of downtown," Rayl said.

Mathew said he respects the city's position, but said the library shouldn't put a lot of money into the downtown library if it knows its biggest demand is elsewhere.

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The library hasn't identified where the money would come from for future expansion. In past years, the city has not been able to fulfill the library's basic yearly budget requests.

An expansion of library services would almost certainly require fund raising, Pace said.

Feye-Stukas will return to Fargo in March to conduct focus groups with community members. She hopes to have a final recommendation for the Library Board in April.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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