Wadena's new library project is a go

The latest floor plan for the new library shows space for books, meetings, spaces for kids to create, a film area, computers and spaces to read a good book. Image courtesy BKV Group

With a slightly downsized plan in place, Wadena City Council members unanimously approved the new library project, effectively allowing the hire of a construction manager to bring in crews to remodel the First National Bank building into the new Wadena library.

The project, at this time, includes remodeling and eventual public use of the first floor of the bank, a slightly larger footprint than the existing library. The decision was a delight to Wadena branch manager Renee Frethem.

“I’m ecstatic,” Frethem said following the decision made Tuesday, Nov. 24 during a special city council meeting. “We started this a long time ago. It’s a sigh of relief.”

Frethem said a positive project like this for the community is needed in a time of such negativity surrounding the current pandemic. “To have it happen now is even sweeter,” Frethem said.

This approved project allows the library to remodel utilizing the funds they have now, $733,568. But the work won’t prohibit the next phases of the project from happening when funding is available to continue. The original “dream” project was over $2 million, while this first phase comes in at just over $1 million.


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Should another phase be approved with $180,000 for an elevator, there could be public access to the lower level as well. As it sits with just stairs leading downstairs, the basement cannot be used as public space as it is not accessible to all. Staff would have access to it as needed, according to Frethem.

“We are under $300,000 from being able to fund the whole thing,” Mayor George Deiss said. “With the elevator.”

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Councilman Wade Miller suggested that since the project is now moving ahead, he believes more donors will step up and donate. Much of the fundraising efforts came to a screeching halt amidst the pandemic.

This project was pushed along thanks to the Library Board and Friends of the Library groups working with the Initiative Foundation to set up an account for these fundraising efforts.

The downsized plan still includes what the current library does not -- meeting room, expanded seating areas, a maker’s space and a library that’s ADA compliant. A great cost savings for the project is that they are reusing about 95% of the furnishings, with plans to reface or update them, Frethem said.

Since the new build is in a different building, library operations should continue normally until moving day/week when all items must make the swift trip a block north. The only hiccup would be if the council agrees to sell the current library building before the new space is ready. Another potential boost to the library's money needs are that funds from the sale of the current library will go towards the new library.

With the council’s approval, the BKV Group that the city has been working with can move to hire a construction manager. The city hopes local contractors will be hired to begin the demo and reconstruction of the bank building into a library.

Frethem said it’s possible they could move into the new space by late spring to early summer but that timeline is a bit unclear at this time with many more steps in the process. Frethem sees these next steps as the fun part as the group works to create a space that will far outlive those involved.


Frethem said having this project come to life while COVID-19 cases are at their worst in the area was refreshing, as she sees this new space has evolved to better accommodate the community’s needs during a pandemic. The drive-thru area that was once for depositing and withdrawing money will now be a space where people can get curbside service if it’s unsafe to enter the building. If restrictions can safely be removed, the library will offer more than ever before. Even if they aren't, Frethem wants to make sure the community is able to access the many resources they can provide.

“The library - it's not just about books and movies - it's about information,” Frethem said. “I think we’re going to take on an even bigger role.”

She believes the offerings of the public library will become more important than ever in the coming months.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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