South St. Paul council approves study to look at transferring library to county system


file photo South St. Paul has initiated a study that will look at transfering the city-owned and operated library to the Dakota County Libraries system.

The South St. Paul City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Dakota County on Feb. 19 to study transferring the South St. Paul Library to the county system.

The library is currently owned and operated by the city, which initiated the study, according to City Administrator Joel Hanson.

Hanson said that a 2016 facility study of the library revealed deficiencies in the roof, heating and wiring systems, which could all cost significant amounts to repair. 

“The concern we have is making improvements to those systems — without knowing the long-term plan for the library — could result in wasted tax dollars,” he said. 

This year, the city is levying $767,000 for library operations. The recommended building renovation option from the 2016 study was for work estimated to cost $4.5 million.

Accounting for increases in construction costs since the study, if the project were done in 2021 it would cost $5.4 million.

Hanson said if the library became part of the county system, the county would take over those financial responsibilities.

 

Why the study?

The primary goal of the current library study is to gather information to help make the best decision possible about future library operations, Hanson said.

The areas of study include employee transition issues, service level impacts, transfer of existing library assets like books and equipment, development of a switchover process and a timeline for a new or remodeled county library, and lease terms for the existing facility.

“Dakota County does not want the facility as it currently exists because of the deficiencies in the building,” Hanson said. “They do not want to be responsible for those costs without a long-term plan being addressed.”

Hanson said the city is looking for a commitment from Dakota County to maintain library operations in the city for the long term, as well as any other considerations identified during a planned community engagement process.

Hanson said the county board should OK the study in early March, and community engagement would be conducted March through September. Study models would be ready for discussion June or July, with a preliminary decision made in September, as both the city and county are putting together their preliminary tax levies. 

A final agreement could come in November.

 

Not just a building

If it’s determined the library will be moved to a new site, Hanson said preservation of the 1927 building would receive consideration. The decision rests with the city council.

Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, local historian Lois Glewwe said a memo in the council agenda packet stated that based on comments during a recent council work session, there is appreciation for the historical significance of the current building.

“[It] served us well for over 90 years,” Glewwe said. “It’s part of the whole character, the charm, the unique nature of the library that we’re after, not just the preservation of a 1927 building.”

She said the South St. Paul Library was the first library built in Dakota County and is the only American Legion library in the state. 

Council member Tom Seaberg said he doesn’t think anyone on the council “has an appetite” to tear down the library building. 

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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