The lease between the city of Stevens Point and Portage County for the Portage County Public Library building has expired and officials are now working to negotiate terms concerning what will happen with the building
The city of Stevens Point built the library in 1991 for approximately $4 million and has rented it to the county since.
The 20-year lease they signed recently expired and now the city and the county are trying to figure out what to do next.
“Our perspective is quite clear,” said Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson. “It is a county-wide library system and the main branch library needs to be treated as such.”
Halverson said the city made an offer to the county to give them the building, plus a check for $100,000 for repairing existing issues. The offer was meant to be confidential but was mistakenly read aloud by a county official during a public Space and Properties Committee meeting March 3. The county rejected the offer and as of yet has not made a counter offer.
“The county disclosed what should have been confidential negotiated information in open session, which was brutally inappropriate and gave the city extreme pause in terms of how we would like to move forward with a level confidence in these negotiations,” Halverson said.
County Executive Patty Dreier said she is hoping to they will be able to settle the matter soon.
“I want us to work together to get it resolved to make some headway so we can secure the future for at least the next 10 years,” Dreier said. “We need to move this along so we can all properly plan for what we need to plan for. I look forward to having this settled and I know the library staff does and I know the library board does.”
Dreier declined comment about anything pertaining to the private document that was mistakenly read at the Space and Properties meeting.
As part of the old lease, the city was responsible for maintenance and repairs exceeding $2,000. Previous to the offer from the city to give the county the building, the county had wanted to sign the lease but change it to say any building costs under $5,000 would be the county’s responsibility, and anything more would be the city’s responsibility.
In 2012, city and county officials went through the library to determine what repairs needed to be made. The total cost of repairs determined was $536,000. The repairs needed include replacing the boiler and chiller, roof repairs and repairs for the temperature control system.
“This was a list of projects decided and agreed on by county and city officials,” said Todd Neunfeldt, the facilities manager for Portage County.
The repairs have not yet been started and cannot be started until the city and county decide who will have ownership of the building and what the terms of that ownership will be.
“The city is very concerned about the patrons of the library, the senior citizen importance, its general location and obviously the importance to youth overall within the county,” said Halverson. “Within the county this is a very important statement because this is the main branch of the Portage County Library System.”
Portage County also operates the three other branches of the library in buildings in Plover, Rosholt and Almond. The Amherst library has operated independently for more than 70 years.
The history of the library in Stevens Point reaches back to 1868, when a reading circle “for reading, music and conversation” sparked the first interest in having any sort of library.
The first library started out as a few book shelves at a local high school, then occupied a couple rooms above a former downtown drug store.
The building before the one the library currently resides in was built with a bequest of $140,000 to the city from lifelong city resident Charles M. White. He stipulated it was to be used “for some project or building beneficial to the community.”
The construction of the that library, on the corner of Clark Street and Strongs Avenue, was surrounded by controversy, from the decision of where build, to who would foot the bill and even picketers over what type of sheet metal to use. The building was finally completed in 1968. The county took over library operations with the county-wide system in 1982 and has been running the system ever since, with the municipalities owning the buildings.