Historical Society pitches Carnegie Library plea to commissioners
Alexandria city and Douglas County boundary lines continue to converge since the governing bodies first joint meeting on April 25, 2012. Now the two have been approached by the Douglas County Historical Society (DCHS) to unite in an effort to resurrect a historic property both the city and county once owned - the RayMar Building, a Carnegie Library.
DCHS board member Carol Neumann proposed the joint venture first at the Alexandria City Council meeting Monday and again at Tuesday morning's Douglas County Commissioners' meeting.
"Last night at the city meeting [the council] sent it for a feasibility study," Neumann said. "So perhaps, between the city and the county, there could be some cooperation."
Commissioners opted to await the city's study before taking any further action on the venture.
DCHS has toured the building three times in the past 18 months with intentions to acquire the property, but realized it does not have the capability to do so alone. Neumann said that Commissioner Bev Bales and Mayor Sara Carlson had gone on tours of the building as well.
"I do recall, there seemed to be some leakage on the north wall," Bales said.
While the brick and stone exterior appears solid, the interior has suffered water damage. In 2011, missing caulk around the exterior electrical piping allowed water to seep into the northwest corner of the building. Information provided by Neumann indicated that, "Caulking has been applied and the water concern seems to be resolved."
The society would like to use the lower level of the building for historical records and a research facility as it is getting too large for its current location in the Knute Nelson house on Nokomis Street in Alexandria. The DCHS would continue to be housed out of the Knute Nelson property.
Neumann said the northeast corner of the lower level of the Carnegie Library would be perfect for archiving but would need to be retrofitted with humidity and temperature controls. She has been informed by the Minnesota Historical Society that being in a historic property, grant funding would be more easily acquired for such a project.
"As you're speaking about this, you're talking about usage by the historical society only for the basement," Bales said.
Neumann said the upper level could be rented out for social gatherings and the DCHS would be interested in renting a portion for traveling exhibits.
"The lobby area is gorgeous with a fireplace that would be very suitable for small scale social events like wedding receptions or musical events," Neumann said. She added that by expanding the research center space, bus tours could visit the historical society, which they are missing out on now because of their lack of room.
"We're really running out of space for our research, which is a big part of the historical society," Neumann said.
One luxury the RayMar Building is lacking is the availability of parking. The property has eight spaces to the east, but the city currently owns them.
Bales asked if there is a chance the DCHS could build on land south of its current location. Neumann said that was discussed prior to the real estate market going south. When the Carnegie Library became a property of interest, Neumann said, the DCHS determined that building on land would be too big of a project, adding staffing and operating costs. By partnering with the city and county, the cost to DCHS would be lessened.
"This empty building needs to be the centerpiece for the city of Alexandria and Douglas County," Neumann said.
The RayMar Building, designed by Henry A. Foeller for Andrew Carnegie, has been vacant for more than 10 years. It has undergone extensive renovations since it first opened its doors as a public library in 1903. Since that time, it has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The building served as the location of the Douglas County Library and the city of Alexandria owned the property for a time prior to the current owner.
The current owner purchased the property for $122,500 in 1997. After a remodel that included installing an elevator, custom fireplace, granite, leaded glass, electrical and HVAC systems and an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant entrance, the property was listed at $1 million in 2007. Today, the price is $799,000.
See related story Alexandria council hears request to revive historic downtown building.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.