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St. Paul is planning nearly $18 million in upgrades for three libraries, including a complete rebuild of the 92-year-old Hamline Midway branch.

Designs from Minneapolis-based LSE Architects, released on Thursday by the city, show visions for outdoor reading plazas, community resource hubs, updated technology and increased energy efficiency at the Hamline Midway, Hayden Heights and Riverview libraries.

"Since the last time these buildings were really invested in 30 years ago, the use of libraries and these communities have really changed," said Catherine Penkert, St. Paul's library director.

The city allocated $8.1 million to the Hamline Midway project in this year's capital improvement budget, but additional money will be needed, Penkert said. The department is applying for state and federal resources, as well as exploring private and philanthropic fundraising options.

Disputes over demolition

Penkert said project leaders gathered input from more than 1,000 residents. Among them was a coalition of neighbors and preservationists who opposed the demolition of the current Hamline Midway Library, favoring an alternative proposal that would have remodeled and expanded the existing facility.

Keon Blasingame, project manager for LSE Architects, said the new building will incorporate elements of its predecessor — such as its entry arch and brick facade — to "hold onto some of that original character."

"This will be a state-of-the-art library that preserves the history — and that looks and feels familiar — while also having opportunities for today's communities to come together and create new works of art, new familiar features that reflect the cultures of St. Paul today," Penkert said. The decision to rebuild was largely driven by a desire for a larger and more sustainable building.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, one of the leaders of the Renovate 1558 group rallying to preserve the existing library, said the public engagement was "a complete sham of a process" that lacked transparency and was designed to reach the decision city officials desired from the start. Almost 3,000 people signed an online petition to stop the "senseless demolition" of "an iconic neighborhood asset."

"It's a real gut punch," he said of Thursday's announcement. "They're about to tear down a perfectly good building."

The Hamline Midway Coalition, the neighborhood's district council, wrote library officials in April seeking more time for community engagement. Later in the month, historic preservation researcher Barbara Bezat received a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office saying the agency believes the property would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, though a formal nomination would be necessary.

City Council Member Mitra Jalali, who represents the neighborhood, issued a statement in support of the chosen design.

"A full library rebuild doesn't just honor the past — it changes the very conditions of disinvestment that created its inequities," Jalali said. "I am excited to see this ambitious investment in our community."

'Long overdue' upgrades

Work on the Hamline Midway Library is slated to start in 2023 and likely will take 18 to 24 months, Blasingame said.

The facility, which was built in 1930 and last remodeled in 1990, has an outdated ventilation system, crumbling brick and other "significant structural and building systems issues," according to library officials.

St. Paul Public Library revealed renovation plans for the Riverview Library on the city’s West Side.
St. Paul Public Library revealed renovation plans for the Riverview Library on the city’s West Side.

LSE Architects

The Hayden Heights and Riverview libraries are similarly poised for long overdue upgrades, Penkert said, though the timeline for those projects will depend on funding.

Since its construction in 1978, the Hayden Heights Library on St. Paul's East Side has not been remodeled. Plans for the building include an interior and exterior renovation that would install large new windows, as well as create space for social service providers and other community resource groups, such as job support programs.

St. Paul Public Libraries revealed plans to renovate Hayden Heights Library on the city’s East Side.
St. Paul Public Libraries revealed plans to renovate Hayden Heights Library on the city’s East Side.

LSE Architects

The Riverview Library on the city's West Side was built in 1917, one of thousands of libraries paid for by grants from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. The city's selected design focuses on adding space and improving accessibility to the building, which was last renovated in 1989. Architects plan to construct an addition, move all public spaces to the library's main floor and replace a front staircase with an outdoor reading area.

The library system is seeking an additional $3.5 million to upgrade its children's areas and technology at all 13 branch locations.