Vote may split midvalley | AspenTimes.com

Vote may split midvalley

Supporters of a proposal to build a new midvalley library are banking on their ability to overcome jealousies between Basalt and El Jebel area residents.

The Basalt Regional Library District has to convince voters to be concerned about the bigger picture rather than which town gets the main library and which gets the branch. That might be easier said than done, however, considering the demographics.

About 54 percent of the 11,000 registered voters in the district live east of Emma in Basalt, Fryingpan Valley, Holland Hills and Old Snowmass. The remaining 46 percent live west of Emma in places such as Willits, Sopris Village, El Jebel, Blue Lake, Summit Vista and Missouri Heights.

“If it was skewed to one side or the other, it would be easy to decide where to put the main library,” said Peter Frey, a Basalt resident and member of the library district’s board of directors.

To try to downplay the intraregional rivalry, the library district has come up with a proposal for two libraries. It would build a new facility in El Jebel, and refurbish and expand the existing library in downtown Basalt. One ballot question will ask if the district can issue bonds of up to $5.1 million for construction and remodeling. The bonds would be repaid by a property tax increase that nets the district $482,700 annually.

A separate ballot question seeks a property tax increase that would bring in an $875,000 annually for operations and maintenance.

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Frey said he and other members of the library district board tried to keep the main library near downtown Basalt but just couldn’t come up with an affordable option.

The district negotiated for months with the Basalt town government to buy property at the Levinson site, just west of downtown.

Frey said negotiations proved fruitless because, in his opinion, the town couldn’t sell land to the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the library and for free-market development and still achieve its goal of recouping the funds it spent on the land.

If a deal had been reached for the Levinson property, the library district would have been limited to a 16,000-square-foot site, Frey said. That would have required construction of a two-story building which would have added operation costs of about $50,000 per year.

In addition, the town was seeking $500,000 as a sale price, and the library district contends it would have spent between $100,000 and $200,000 for soil preparation.

The El Jebel option is considerably cheaper in upfront costs. The Crawford family, which owns the El Jebel shopping center and trailer park as well as much of the surrounding land, offered a 1.5-acre site for $800 per month in rent. The Crawfords will grant a lease for 35 years, with an option to renew.

The site is approved for a commercial building and comes with utilities and parking already in place, so construction costs will be reduced compared to Levinson, said Frey.

The El Jebel site is also large enough to build the 17,000-square-foot library on one story rather than two. While operation costs will be higher for a main facility and a branch, it will be offset for years by savings from the El Jebel site, Frey said.

District officials maintain the decision to build the main library in El Jebel doesn’t stick Basalt with an inadequate facility. The current library will be expanded from about 3,400 to 4,000 square feet.

The extra space will allow expansion of the children’s reading room and collection of books. A preliminary plan calls for additional computers, some for “stand-up” stations that could be used for a few minutes to check e-mail and some at sit-down stations for time-consuming research.

Frey said the adult book collection would still be a major part of operations in Basalt. If materials were requested in Basalt that were kept at the El Jebel library, they would be sent over in same-day deliveries, he said.

It is difficult to tell if those promises will be enough to placate Basalt voters. There was vociferous opposition to earlier plans to move the facility away from downtown. Supporters of this proposal are stressing that Basalt gets a better library than what currently exists.

A group has been formed to campaign for approval of the proposal. “Friends of the Basalt Regional Library District” sent a direct-mail piece that arrived at constituents’ homes Thursday. The brochure said a vote on questions 4B and 4C will result in “more space, more books and computers, more hours open, and more staff to assist you.”

No organized opposition has surfaced in the campaign yet.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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