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New chapter for old library

A "for sale" sign recently sprouted up at the Shaw Memorial Library in Cloquet. The sign is part of the requirement for Carlton County to attempt to sell the historic property. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
The Carlton County Historical Society is housed in the Shaw building now. They use the beautiful original bookshelves as displays for vintage photos and artifacts. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

A beloved historical landmark in Cloquet is for sale.

The county is seeking a request for proposals (RFP) for the purchase and reuse of the former library building in downtown Cloquet.

The building was gifted from the City of Cloquet to Carlton County in 1987, when the library moved into the current building on 14th Street.

According to Carlton County Economic Development Director Connie Christenson, the county applied to the Minnesota Historical Society for a capital grant to renovate the building, but was encouraged to apply for a design grant first to fully understand the extent of the work and materials needed. The county was awarded the grant.

The Shaw Memorial Library has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988. The Carlton County Historical Society (CCHS) has called the one-story brick building home since shortly after.

"It's a good fit," Executive Historical Director Rachel Martin said. The mission of the CCHS is to collect, preserve and disseminate artifacts, including the building, she said.

"I love it here. Out of all of the places I have worked, this is my favorite," Martin said.

The CCHS doesn't pay rent — only utilities and some repairs and maintenance.

"We added an air conditioning unit, put in an elevator and handicapped entrance in the basement," Martin said. "We also put ultraviolet film over the windows to help protect the artifacts."

The red brick library was completed in 1920 in the Beaux Arts style by Duluth architect firm Kelly and Shefchik. It has a limestone base and is trimmed with white Bedford stone. The building has cornices, accent trim and an ornamental railing called a balustrade that goes around the flat roof.

The building faces north toward main street. It has a finished basement — partially below grade — that was originally the children's library.

Because the building is on the National Historic Register, the county is required to follow specific rules while renovating, which raises the costs significantly.

If a private party buys the building and doesn't apply for historic tax credits, they will not be held to the stringent guidelines.

According to a study commissioned by the county and completed in February, a lot of work is required to bring the old beauty back to the original state.

Martin was impressed with how thorough the study was. A tough decision had to be made.

The county reviewed its capital improvement projects, which includes the jail study and county buildings that need maintenance. They ranked the projects in order of public need and level of investment.

According to the RFP, the goal of the county is to return the property to the tax rolls, which will potentially provide an opportunity to create housing or new jobs in the community.

All proposals must contain a detailed explanation of the intended use of the historic building after purchase as well as the potential buyers experience in dealing with similar projects.

The potential buyer must also include the type of financing and a time frame for completion of the project as well as any other helpful information to prove their capability.

The CCHS was sent a bid package and encouraged to submit a proposal.

Before awarding the sale, all proposals will be evaluated and ranked according to the purchase offer, the intended use of the old building, the level of proposed rehabilitation, type of financing secured as well as whether the building will be used for profit or nonprofit.

"The building cannot be demolished," Christenson stressed.

While at first glance the building looks in great shape, closer inspection showed the truth.

The study revealed that the current overall condition of the building has been found to be average to poor. The main issues are the roof, electrical service throughout the building, front entry stairs, rear lower-level access stairs and overall drainage around the building.

"The Historical Society replaced the roof in the 1990s," Martin said. "Now it leaks whenever it rains, or sometimes when the spring snow melts."

The beloved old building needed extensive and expensive renovations.

The list includes the following: repointing of brick and stone, repair and replacement of brick and stone, replacement of stone balusters (decorative pillars supporting a rail) around the roof, reconstruction of masonry and concrete front stairs and wing walls, rehabilitation of cast iron lamp posts, a new entrance door and hardware at basement and the windows need to be painted.

The study details exactly how the repairs need to be made. For example, any new mortar needs to be the exact color, texture and composition as the old mortar it is replacing. The same when replacing any other masonry on the building. Certified installers are also required to do the work, according to the study. Using certified installers and doing the repair to the level stated in the study makes the repairs more costly.

The good news is the brick exterior is in decent condition and has been well maintained. The brick and repointing work needed is minimal. The majority of the issues are where something has been attached to the building.

According to the study history, the library was constructed in on the site of an earlier library building that was destroyed by the 1918 fires. The building appears to have used portions of the original building's foundation walls and footings. The original building's ash room at the rear of the building survived the fire and was incorporated into the new library.

There weren't any drain tile, sump pump or drain tile outlets in sight during the study tour.

The electrical is vintage, including push button switches.

As is common with old houses, there are areas of crumbling plaster and peeling paint. The study declared that the current site drainage is unacceptable.

The poor drainage by the old children's library door has caused flooding during hard rains.

"The water seeps in under the back door by the alley," Martin said.

However, the building itself still seems to be structurally sound.

Recommendations to repair the building are lengthy. Rebuilding the front entry stairs and addressing the at-grade water problem as well as the below ground structures at the back of the building ranked as highest on the priority list. Also at the top of the list is replacing the roof and the associated masonry restoration at the limestone cornice.

Total estimated cost of high-priority work is $689,842. The most expensive of the list on high priority is the front entry stairs at $175,000. The electrical is $75,000 and the repairing the limestone is $79,430.

Estimated cost of medium-priority work is $178,297.

Low-priority costs are estimated at $65,345.

And what would happen to the CCHS?

"We're not going to throw them out. I value them and want them to stay in my district," Carlton County Commissioner Tom Prouxl said. "We don't want to lose them. I love those guys and we're going to work with them."

"We are meeting with the county to see what we can come up with," said Martin, who will retire Dec. 31.