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Our View: Finally, optimism for old library

Superior's Carnegie Library, 1204 Hammond Ave., is slated to be sold. To contact the new owner, go to aoarchitect.com/thelibrary/. (Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram)

Empty for more than two and a half decades and twice ordered to be demolished, Superior's historic, landmark Carnegie Library building suddenly — also, remarkably, and against the longest of odds — has a future brimming with optimism.

A new owner has stepped up with the knowledge, experience, and financial resources not only to save the grand, 115-year-old brick behemoth but also to convert it for productive reuse. Osterlund Architects LLC of Raleigh, N.C., has signed an offer-to-purchase agreement, as the Superior Telegram reported earlier this month. And the Friends of the Superior Carnegie Library LLC announced its vote to approve the deal. Closing is expected in June — and can't come soon enough.

"We value that building so much," a Carnegie LLC agent told the newspaper, reflecting communitywide sentiment. "It's pretty exciting."

"Pretty exciting" seems a bit of an understatement for this moment. The longtime library was one of Superior's most-visited and beloved gathering places from the time it opened in 1902 to the day of its closure in 1991. Generations of kids flocked there for fun, to meet friends, and to study. That included the mother of Osterlund Architect LLC's Andrew Osterlund. He clearly sees the sentimental value.

The historic value is as apparent. The library on Hammond Avenue was the first of 63 built in Wisconsin and was among 1,689 Carnegie Libraries that went up throughout the U.S. between 1883 and 1929, paid for by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Many remain today, though only about half were still libraries in the early 1990s, which was when the Hammond Avenue library closed in favor of a new facility a few blocks away on Tower Avenue.

The future of the once-stately, suddenly abandoned structure quickly grew tenuous. Vandals set a fire and damaged the building. Twice the city issued raze-or-repair orders.

The second time, in 2005, was when concerned citizens started rallying around their treasured old library. They put together their money, bought the property, cleaned up its grounds, scrubbed off graffiti, replaced drafty windows, and made other improvements and repairs.

A six-month feasibility study now will help Osterlund find new tenants, identify future uses, and determine what comes next. Encouragingly, Superior's economic development team is involved.

"This is a great turn of events — very positive developments for (the) building, (the) neighborhood, and (the) city," Superior's director of economic development told the Telegram.

After more than a quarter century of uncertainty, non-use, and near death, the comment seems a bit of an understatement.