Structural distress discovered at Carnegie Library

Mike Milbrandt
This hand-tinted postcard view of Montevideo's Carnegie Library was taken the year it opened in 1907.

One of Montevideo’s most historic and iconic buildings has sustained structural damage. While performing routine maintenance this past summer on the Carnegie Library, workers from the City of Montevideo discovered a troubling development on the exterior of the building.

Montevideo City Manager Robert Wolfington explained: “On the north wall of the building , the wall appears to be separating from the roofline. we are very concerned about that.”

The Carnegie Library has been a source of civic pride for the community of Montevideo ever since it was constructed in 1906 and formally opened in 1907. The venerable structure is one of 65 Carnegie Libraries which were built across Minnesota in the early part of the 20th Century.

In December of 1905, the City of Montevideo received a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie and his Carnegie Corporation. Carnegie was a wealthy industrialist and well know philanthropist who donated nearly $1 million to build the libraries in Minnesota. Carnegie built 1,700 libraries across the United States.

Montevideo’s Carnegie Library was constructed on land donated by Charles Budd and John King, and plans were prepared by architect Martin Granum. Granum was know in Montevideo for designing many homes and buildings in town during that period of time. The library itself built by Everett Iverson.

The structural distress being exhibited on the north wall of the library requires urgent attention. “Since discovering the issue earlier this summer, we have been looking into how best to address it,” said Wolfington: “That is why we are bringing in a specialist that deals with historic structures.”

The City of Montevideo has hired Collaborative Design Group out of Minneapolis to investigate the cause of the Carnegie Library’s structural distress. Wolfington said: “Currently, we are unsure of what has occurred and why. That is why we are bringing Collaborative Design in. I can’t say specifically what has caused the damage. It is an older building, so it could simply be age, or it could be waer damage. Hopefully we’ll have an answer in the next few days.”

(Editor’s note: the initial inspection of the building by Collaborative Design was scheduled to take place yesterday, Wednesday.)

Montevideo’s Carnegie Library served the community well for 60 years. However, by the 1960s, Montevideo had grown to the point where it was apparent that a new, larger library was needed. In the early 1960s, plans began to be made for a replacement to be built. The new Montevideo-Chippewa County Library was completed in 1968, and the Carnegie Library ceased to function as a library.

Since that time, the Carnegie Library has served as a community hall, and over the years various organizations have held regular meetings there. In the 1980s, the library received its first restoration and preservation efforts.

According to Wolfington, use of the building has declined in recent years. He said: “Prior to March of this year when everything was shut down because of COVID, use of the building had been sporadic. We haven’t seen heavy usage of it in some time. We would get the occasional graduation or wedding reception rental, but we haven’t been taking any rentals since March.”

Since the Carnegie Library is on the National Register of Historic Places, there are rules and regulations regarding the care, upkeep, and restoration of the building. “That is why we are bringing in Collaborative Design,” said Wolfington. “They work specifically with historic buildings, so in order to get a proper assessment, we wanted to bring in someone who could do the appropriate work.”

The cost of the assessment will be $5,760 plus normal reimbursable expenses, but it will be money well spent to get an accurate picture of what is happening to the north wall of the Carnegie Library. “In terms of what the next steps will be after that, I don’t want to speculate, since we don’t know what the condition of the building actually is.” said Wolfington. “Once we receive a report from Collaborative Design Group, it will be easier to have that discussion.”

According to Wolfington, any work that needs to be done to repair the damage will need to be done by approved specialists, since the library is on the National Register of Historic Places. “That means that there are going to be a number of additional steps in the process to have the building repaired,” he said.

In the meantime, the city has been exploring ways to fund the needed repairs. “People have urged us to look at grants, and that’s what we’ve been looking at over the past few weeks,” said Wolfington.

“We’ve been seeing if there are grants around out there for a project like this.

“We’ve discovered that there really isn’t anything in terms of emergency funding, so we’re hoping to get in on the next available round of grants that may be available. Until then, it is difficult to say what the next steps will be.”

For now, an area directly underneath the structural distress has been roped off, and the public is asked to stay clear of the area. “Our primary concern is the safety of everyone around the building,” said Wolfington.

Althogh the 113 year old Carnegie Library is showing its age, the building remains much as it was when it was built in 1906.