Half a decade after it closed, the Arden Hills Library is coming down

The Arden Hills Library building in its final days before the demolition vehicles arrived. (Pamela O’Meara/Bulletin)
The Arden Hills Library building in its final days before the demolition vehicles arrived. (Pamela O’Meara/Bulletin)
An undated photo of the interior of the Arden Hills Library, showing what one former librarian termed its 1960’s Scandinavian design. (Library archives)
An undated photo of the interior of the Arden Hills Library, showing what one former librarian termed its 1960’s Scandinavian design. (Library archives)
As seen in the Sept. 18, 1969, edition of The Bulletin, an announcement of the Ramsey County Arden Hills Library opening. (Bulletin archives)
As seen in the Sept. 18, 1969, edition of The Bulletin, an announcement of the Ramsey County Arden Hills Library opening. (Bulletin archives)
A charcoal sketch of Harry Potter, donated by illustrator Mary GrandPré, who created the artwork for the U.S. releases of the Harry Potter books. GrandPré donated the sketch to the Arden Hills Library following an appearance there; it now hangs in the New Brighton Library. (Mike Munzenrider/Bulletin)
A charcoal sketch of Harry Potter, donated by illustrator Mary GrandPré, who created the artwork for the U.S. releases of the Harry Potter books. GrandPré donated the sketch to the Arden Hills Library following an appearance there; it now hangs in the New Brighton Library. (Mike Munzenrider/Bulletin)

Land approved for home development, county libraries continue to evolve

Some 700 people showed up at the former Ramsey County Library in Arden Hills for its last day of operations on Dec. 31, 2010.

The building, deemed too expensive to update in order to keep up with changing library needs, was closed in favor of a new library location half a mile away in the New Brighton Community Center. The New Brighton branch opened Oct. 29, 2011.

Now, nearly five years after the closure, the former library, which dates back to 1969, is set to be torn down with much less fanfare. The demolition will make way for an upscale housing development, following final approval of the project's plans at the March 30 Arden Hills City Council meeting.

Dean Hanson, owner of Hanson Builders, which will be developing the site at 1941 County Road E2, said at the council meeting that construction on all seven of the planned homes should be underway in a year's time and that the development ought be complete in about 18 months.

As for the soon-to-be gone library building, Arden Hills Mayor David Grant said there are mixed feelings in the community about the place being razed.

"A lot of people in the area have very fond memories of the library," Grant said. "While we'll certainly be pleased to see the library [land] go into productive use, it'll be sad to see that era pass."

"For my part, [I remember] my kids checking out movies and books, and doing school projects," Grant added.

"The library is a great resource that quickly becomes part of someone's life."

'The big new library'

The Arden Hills Library was established two years after the Ramsey County Branch Library in Maplewood opened in 1967. Both were created during a time in which the suburbs around Roseville "mushroomed."

Previously, according to Eilenne Boder, who manages the Shoreview Library and formerly ran the Arden Hills branch, it was the Lake Johanna Library, which was housed "in a shed by the lake."

Upon its 1969 opening, The Bulletin characterized the Arden Hills location as "the big new library," that "overlooks the picturesque Jones Lake valley and hills sweeping up to Mounds View High School and Valentine Hills."

Meg Robertson was the longtime children's librarian at Arden Hills and manager of the branch when it closed. She describes its interior as 1960s Scandinavian — clean lines and loads of brick.

Robertson, who currently manages the New Brighton Library, said she began working at the Arden Hills facility in 1994. She still sees folks from the her former branch at her current New Brighton branch, or "at least their parents."

Robertson recalled packed summer reading programs in Arden Hills and the library's unique setting by a marsh and surrounded by woods. Beyond efforts to take library programs outside when possible, she and others remembered seeing a menagerie of animals on the grounds, including deer, turtles, owls, snakes and hawks.

"We considered it the wildlife library," Robertson says.

Potter portraiture

Of the various library events that Robertson was a part of, the one she said stands out the most was when the library hosted an appearance of book illustrator Mary GrandPré, early on during the Harry Potter craze.

GrandPré, who created the cover artwork and chapter illustrations for the U.S. releases of the Potter books, "lived in my neighborhood," said Robertson, who approached the artist and pitched the event.

Robertson said the Nov. 22, 1999, appearance drew an estimated 360 people. GrandPré donated a charcoal sketch of Harry Potter to the library, which still hangs in the New Brighton location, one of the few holdovers between the two branches.

As the end neared for the Arden Hills branch, Robertson said the building became increasingly more difficult and expensive to update in the Internet era when patrons' needs and expectations changed rapidly. More structural things, such as the library's aging boiler, became an issue as well.

The building had its quirks, with decorative outdoor walls that came close to the low roofline. Robertson said there were "enthusiastic youth that liked to get up on the roof."

The library's closure was stayed a handful of times, Robertson says, before a task force was finally established to come up with a plan for the future, ultimately opting to make the move to New Brighton.

"I genuinely loved that place," Robertson said, but adding to that she  "looked forward to new opportunities" in the modern New Brighton library.

"Mostly it was the community that I loved," she said, wistfully, remembering all the adults who had fond childhood memories of the Arden Hills branch.

"It's hard to close a library, let me tell you," Robertson said.

More library system changes in the works

On April 11, the Ramsey County Library System unveiled its remodeled White Bear Lake location, the result of a $3.3 million renovation project, according to a release.

Library director Susan Nemitz said 3,000 people showed up for the opening to see the first major changes to the White Bear Lake Library since the 1970s.

The remodel is "very dramatic [and] beautiful," Nemitz said, explaining that workers "wired the building for the 21st century," added windows, and expanded spaces for children and teens.

Next up for RCL, Nemitz said, is a new regional library in Shoreview. She said the current Shoreview Library building was due for a remodel, and when nearby properties on Highway 96 became available, new construction was made possible.

Regional libraries offer more services and have longer hours of operation.

She said RCL is currently in talks with Mounds View Public Schools about taking over the current library building, which "has good bones; is a solid building," for administrative purposes.

If a deal with District 621 falls through, Nemitz says, other county functions could be housed there.

Deal or no deal, Nemitz said RCL is searching for a construction company and architect for the project, and is working towards having a contract signed by early summer.

Construction would begin this fall with sights, she said, on the new Shoreview Regional Library opening in January 2017.

Nemitz said building the new library will avoid the expected gap in service of 12 to 16 months that would have occurred with a remodeling project, and that the building's proximity to Highway 96 will be an asset.

"The building itself becomes a billboard for the service," Nemitz said.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.


Thoughts from the Arden Hills Library’s last day

Meg Robertson, branch manager of the Ramsey County Library in New Brighton and a former children’s librarian and manager at the former Arden Hills library, has a notebook in which patrons shared their handwritten memories of the Arden Hills branch on its final day, Dec. 31, 2010.

There are nearly 100 messages in the notebook, many remembering storytime and the summer reading programs, and at least one from the children of the architect who designed the library building in the late 1960s.

“I remember when I was unemployed I would come out here and read by the picture windows and watch the birds.” —Lynn

“This is where the Famous Puppet Stage Romance started in 1972 between Jane Mattlin and Mike Kingsbury. She was the librarian I was the mover. I’ll never forget this place.” —Mike

“The library is as familiar to me as my home.” —Sue

“I would go straight to the Garfield books but where everyone else went is a mystery to me.” —Jacob

“I’ve been looking at the comics taped to the checkout computer for years. The one about Miss Stamp Pad and the book Winning Through Intimidation? I just got it. I’ve been looking at it for about 10 years. This library is my favorite. I’m gonna miss it!” —Emily


Upscale homes will be priced to nearly $1 million

Bethel University purchased the former Arden Hills Library building and land from Ramsey County for $500,000 in 2011, according to county property records.

The college also bought an adjacent property from the Minnesota Baptist Conference at 1901 County Road E2, which the conference had occupied since the early 1970s.

Arden Hills planning commission documents indicate Hanson Builders, working as Landmark of Arden Hills LLC., has a purchase agreement in place with Bethel for the properties, at a price of $856,000.

Speaking to the Arden Hills City Council when the development was approved March 30, the developer pegged the seven homes’ expected prices to be between $750,000 and $950,000 each. The majority of the homes in what is being called “Valentine Bluff” will have indoor “sports courts,” sweeping walls of oversized windows, and “command center” computer rooms.

Arden Hills’ development website said the homes will be as large as 7,000 square feet.


 

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