The future of Arlington Hills Library

Having served as a library for over eight decades, the Arlington Hills Library may be up for bids to a private owner. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Tthe Arlington Hills Library in 1925. (submitted)

Approximately 30 community members attended a March 4 event to discuss repurposing of the Arlington Hills Library. (Rebecca Rowe/Review)

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Rebecca Rowe
Review staff

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation in 1916 creating the National Park Service.

The Chicago Cubs played their first game at Wrigley Field that year, and here in St. Paul, workers were building Arlington Hills Library.

The structure that has remained a hallmark of the Payne-Phalen community for over 90 years will soon be decommissioned.

A new library in the Payne-Maryland community center is scheduled to open in early 2014.

An event hosted by the District 5 Planning Council on Monday, March 4, discussed future uses of the building.

Approximately 30 residents attended the meeting that featured representatives from various departments of the city and library system.

Sell or lease?

The city of St. Paul plans to sell or lease Arlington Hills, a Carnegie Library that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The idea is not to hang onto the library as a city, but to sell it to some party that would make good use of it consistent with what the community wants,” said Bruce Engelbrekt, real estate manager for St. Paul’s office of financial services.

The city has a typical process to follow when it wants to dispose of buildings, such as an old fire or police station.

“We’re more in the business of accumulating property rather than disposing,” Engelbrekt joked.

St. Paul has an appraisal completed on an unwanted building, interested buyers submit bids, and the highest offer “wins” the property.

For example, old St. Paul Fire Station No. 24 on the corner of East Seventh and Flandrau streets will soon be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The fire station was in operation from 1924 to 1970.

Arlington Hills Library building, though, represents a divergence from the norm.

“We want to do a RFP -- a request for proposals -- process here,” said Engelbrekt. “It allows the city and community to work together and figure out a good way, or at least some criteria, for how that property can be used.”

“If we do it this way with a request for proposal, it means that money doesn’t have to be the only consideration in how we use the building,” added Joanna Brookes, public services manager for St. Paul Public Library.

The St. Paul City Council is expected to authorize in May disposal of the property. A public hearing will be held at that time.

Residents are being encouraged to add their input establishing criteria for reuse of the property between now and June. The St. Paul Public Library system is facilitating the discussions between city and community.

Distributing the RFP in early fall, the current schedule marks February 2014 as the possible final point of sale.

“It is about a nine-month process that will start this May, though that’s not carved in stone. It could be shortened or expanded depending upon library staff working with the community,” Engelbrekt said.

Community input

Recognizing the community’s fondness of the Arlington Hills building, the St. Paul Public Library board has begun the process of receiving input for its future use.

“The work completed at the meeting (March 4) is essential,” said District 5 community organizer Leslie McMurray.  It’s real important that people speak from the heart. This is the time to put out what you want.”
Broad values to include in the RFP were identified during a discussion, and the audience’s perspectives are outlined in the accompanying chart.

“If it is important to you that the building is open to the public (and) that there is some public aspect to the building, we can put that in the RFP,” Brookes said. “Or if it is important that the building is accessible during X number of hours during the week, these are things that we can include.”

It is essential, Brookes explained, that the RFP not be too narrow or specific. For example, the RFP cannot state that the library building be used for a specific purpose, such as a daycare center.

A smaller working group is currently being formed to break down opinions communicated at the community meeting

“We want a 10-member group representative of the varying perspectives in our neighborhoods to come together and actually craft the RFP. They’ll take the values identified and distill it down into language we can put into the RFP before it actually goes out for people to see and consider whether or not they want to make a proposal,” said Brookes.

Part of the evaluation process of bids when received in November will involve how close the submission matches to the values identified by the community

“I think this is great. It gives the community a really good chance to develop criteria regarding what the building must look like, act like, and function like when it is no longer a library. You know you’re not going to end up with something outside the character of this community; you’re going to end up with something that fits,” said attendee Barbara Schmidt.

“We feel that the community has already invested in the building, and we hope you can use this process to continue your investment in the building,” Brookes said.

Sale profits

Money from the sale of the Arlington Hills Library building, according to city ordinances, must be used to repay outstanding debts from property improvements, finance other projects in the capital budget, or retire other unpaid balances.

Engelbrekt was unsure if there are any unpaid obligations from recent upgrades to Arlington Hills.

An elevator was added to the back of the library in the late 1990s using a community development block grant. If future usage of the building is not consistent with the mission of CDBGs, a requirement would exist to pay back some of those funds.

The CDBG program helps low- and moderate-income individuals engage in activities intended to create suitable living environments, decent affordable housing and economic opportunities.

Rebecca Rowe can be reached at

Apply to serve on the Working Group

The St. Paul Public Library is currently forming a 10-member group focusing upon the repurposing of Arlington Hills.
Participants will break down input shared by the community and craft a Request for Proposals document outlining future usage criteria of the library.
Contact public services manager Joanna Brookes for more information. She can contacted at (651) 266-7007 or via email at

What happens to other Carnegie libraries?


photos from Internet resources At top, though people have fallen asleep in libraries for centuries, “Carnegie Hall” in Wisconsin was converted to a bed-and-breakfast where you can do it in style. Middle, a New Haven, Conn., library was repurposed for a church. Just above, family friends and guests must feel like royalty as they ascend the sweeping flight of steps to the former Worcester, Mass., library, now rehabbed as a privately-owned duplex.

According to a summary on the Library of Congress website, in 1885 industrialist Andrew Carnegie established a public meeting hall and library for the workers on his Keystone Bridge project in Pittsburgh.

By 1889, Carnegie was urging other businessmen to donate to the common good. He took the lead at the turn of the century, beginning a 20-year drive to establish libraries all over the country, with donations of multiple millions of dollars.

“Carnegie libraries” are not all built to a master plan; cities and towns chose their own architects and builders. But most share the neoclassical or Greek revival look of public buildings of the period, with sweeping entry steps, columns and tall windows.

Many of the estimated 2,000 have been demolished or repurposed. Some are office buildings, a number are used as museums, and a few are even private homes, schools and the occasional chiropractic clinic.

In Auburn, Wash., the Carnegie library building is anything but quiet, as the Auburn Dance Center hosts ballroom and tap-dancing lessons.

Faith groups have also found new homes in the old buildings; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that a former Carnegie library changed to use as a mosque; a library in New Haven, Conn., was converted to host a Pentecostal congregation.

Though it admits that small spaces and lack of support for modern technology often counts against the buildings, a California group dedicated to Carnegie libraries adds that they’re still attractive to buyers. “The quality of construction, careful renovation, and current interest in historical buildings has worked in their favor.”
— Holly Wenzel


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