Great Falls library continuing repair, remodel projects

Staff at the Great Falls Library are moving forward with plans to convert the back book drop in the alley into a drive through area for patrons to pick up holds.

Library Director Susie McIntyre told the library board this week that city planning and public works departments approved the remodel and staff are gathering quotes from area contractors. The library received a $10,000 state coronavirus relief funds grant for the project.

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McIntyre said in May that the drive-through probably wouldn’t be staffed all the time but in the event of another wave of COVID-19 or future emergency situations, it would make it easier to handle books, she said.

“I think the drive through is going to be fantastically popular regardless of COVID,” McIntyre told the board during the May 26 meeting.

Library staff are also planning to expand hours beginning July 6 if COVID-19 infection rates remain low. The board and staff discussed the possibility of requiring patrons to wear masks if they need one-on-one assistance since “it is quite difficult to help someone with a computer problem or with using the copier while keeping 6 feet away,” McIntyre said. The board said it was reasonable and McIntyre is consulting with Cascade County City-County Health Department before instituting such a policy, she said.

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Last month, the library board voted to eliminate fines for overdue books and to forgive outstanding fines. McIntyre said staff has updated the software system so it no longer charges late fines and their software has a free service to help with eliminating past fines, but it’s currently backlogged. McIntyre said staff is working on that in late July and then plans to launch a marketing campaign to bring patrons back to the library.

The public meeting space in the basement is being remodeled and staff have selected the colors and are collecting quotes. McIntyre said the goal is to complete the project by the end of July.

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The next major repair project is for basement flooding and TD&H Engineering has completed the initial engineering work, she said. Those plans have been submitted to the city planning department and library staff hopes to have the project out to bid in the next few weeks.

The library received anonymous $85,000 donation to be used toward the project that was estimated around $165,000 during an energy audit a few years ago.

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The project includes fixing a leak around the storm drain pipe in the basement and water rising through cracks and expansion joints in the basement concrete.

The project also includes addressing ground water that’s seeping into the basement with sump pumps and a french drain.

The project will require trenching into the street and fixing what is at least a bent pipe and possible a main break in the middle of 2nd Avenue North.

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In recent years, library staff has had to block water from gushing into the basement with mops and buckets every time it rains and the water is likely damaging the building, staff has said.

Depending on costs for the basement mitigation, the library may use funds coming from the now settled Calumet Montana Refining protest. Those funds have been held for the last several years and weren’t able to be used by city departments. The city fiscal department has estimated that the library will received about $139,000 and library staff plans to use them to replenish the Library Fund if they aren’t needed for the flooding project.

The library received three hotspots from the Montana State Library and the data plans are funded for one year. McIntyre said one will be placed in the Bookmobile and the other two will provide WiFi through community partnerships. The initial partners are the Boys and Girls Club and a coffee truck that serves the city and the county. The board approved a borrower’s agreement and updated the internet use policy during their June 23 meeting.

On June 30, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is scheduled to visit the library to learn about the new hotspot programs, the library’s COVID-19 response and its Census efforts, McIntyre said.