Expansion makes perfect sense
November 4, 2012
I’m voting “yes” on 5A and 5B to support renovation, expansion and improvements to the Pitkin County Library. A careful look shows why a “yes” vote on the library is a great community benefit, as acknowledged by the endorsement the question has received from county commissioner candidates John Young and Steve Childs, the Aspen Daily News and The Aspen Times.
A modern library will respond to security needs not considered two decades ago, before child abductions and kindergarten shootings made headlines. We’d like to think that nothing like that would happen here, but who thought we would have bombs brought to our local banks over New Year’s Eve 2008?
The currently recognized importance of early-childhood education makes moving the children’s room to a priority placement on the first floor, in a secure setting, enjoying natural sunlight, with space for storytelling and age appropriate computers simply the right thing to do.
A modern library is so much more than books; it is the gateway for many to the new information age, a place where studying teens can work together on their Internet research, where students can go after they are dismissed early Wednesdays or on weekends. It is a place to access the Internet for those where broadband service is unavailable and to help families keep down the cost of their downloadable-data plans.
A modern library is about having fully equipped rooms where both meetings and lectures can be held, replacing some of the space lost at the Given Institute. Some folks have pointed to the Rio Grande room as meeting space; note that it is seriously constrained, its carpet was removed for social dancing resulting in terrible acoustics, and there are constant interruptions by elevators full of pizza-parlor patrons coming up to use the rest rooms.
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The old art museum building? Who knows whether that will be meeting space – it is as likely to become city offices or home to another arts nonprofit or a small business incubator space. Civic gatherings and activities require good public spaces, something we shouldn’t leave to chance, and our library has the ability to provide that in our community.
The design for the library to accomplish these goals is to build on part of the roof of the parking garage. For the life of me, I cannot understand how the roof of the parking garage came to be Aspen’s newest “sacred space.” If this were a question of saving the old horse corral that used to be there, I’d understand the opposition, but it isn’t.
The plaza as we know it will be entirely scrapped so that the city can repair the leaking garage roof. The new library addition will be a “second front door” opening to a new plaza area (designed by the City Council and its parks department) offering outdoor seating and reading areas as well as shade from the blazing summer sun. The library will integrate and bring vitality and activity to the reconstructed plaza.
Snowy weather reminds us that the library is open in good weather and bad, day and night, 52 weeks a year and that the plaza today is a pretty cold, empty and unused space most of the year. Using a portion of the parking-garage roof for the library was planned from the original construction of the garage. Combining the construction of the addition with the extensive roof work will reduce construction hassle and cost.
Using the private gift that represents almost half of the funding needed for the new addition and renovations instead to try to shoehorn all our community needs in the old library structure would be throwing good money after bad, akin to City Market’s renovation, where millions were spent and the disruption lasted for years, and yet the user today finds very limited depth of product offerings, cramped undersized aisles and uncomfortable overcrowding all around. A private gift of this magnitude should be honored by using it to advance the excellence of library, not as an excuse to step away from local participation in the library’s future.
In recent years, we have seen significant modernization and upgrades to some of our most treasured nonprofit institutions such as the Aspen Institute, the Physics Center and the Aspen Music Festival: These are investments that enhance our guest experience, economy and local quality of life. Bringing our own public facility up to 21st-century capabilities also makes sense.
Please vote “yes” on 5A and 5B
Rachel E. Richards