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$4.8 million Emerge Career and Technology Center will address growing digital divide

The $4.8 million Emerge Career and Technology Center will help address a growing digital divide in North Minneapolis.  

Emerge Community Development will redevelop the former North Branch Library at 1834 Emerson Avenue North, to make way for the center, which will offer a wide variety of programming pertaining to emerging careers, with an emphasis on green jobs, according to Emerge executive director Mike Wynne.

Training will deal with entrepreneurship, job skills, and career learning, while several learning labs, computer kiosks, multi-use conference rooms, and offices will be available.    

So far, Emerge has secured about $3.3 million for the center. Recently the project was listed by a City Council committee as a top priority for transit-oriented design funds from the county.    

In 2009, Emerge acquired the historic building from the Geneva Services Co., a salvage company that will stay in the building until the renovation starts, according to Wynne. The 13,000-square-foot building was a library from 1894 until 1977.    

Calling the building an architectural jewel, he says, "It's the oldest standing building that was erected solely as a library in the state and it was the first branch library in Minneapolis," adding that the project has attracted support from historic preservation groups, government agencies, and other funders.

Emerge's fundraising campaign highlights the legacy of Gratia Countryman, who headed the Minneapolis library system for several decades in the early 1900s, according to Wynne. She was well known across the country for her work starting up children's reading rooms and the bookmobile, which originated at the branch library, according to Emerge information.

As a part of the project, the old bookmobile garage and classrooms will be repurposed for the career tech center while some of Emerge's partners will move into the building to support its operation. "This community asset needs to be returned," says Wynne, adding, "It's a purpose that's accessible" to individuals and big and small groups.   
Emerge plans to wrap up the fundraising aspect in 2011 and begin construction before the year ends. "It's been a challenging time to hold a capital fundraising effort, but we continue to see progress," he says.  

On a broad level, the development contributes to the revitalization of the West Broadway commercial corridor. "At a time of great disparities in joblessness in North Minneapolis and communities of color, this is a chance to bring a support mechanism that works in a very direct way."

Source: Mike Wynne, executive director, Emerge Community Development
Writer: Anna Pratt

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