Aspen council set to discuss library expansion plan
June 11, 2012
ASPEN – Aspen City Council development reviews often are long and tedious affairs.
However, the item on Monday’s meeting agenda – a proposal to expand the Pitkin County Library – promises to be a less-than-stringent examination of building plans. As Mayor Mick Ireland pointed out two weeks ago when the ordinance relating to the project was introduced, voters likely will have the final say on the matter in November when they decide the fate of a property tax increase designed to cover its construction costs.
The Board of County Commissioners has yet to vote on the ballot question, but a fall vote is likely, according to library Director Kathy Chandler. Commissioners have until the end of August to place it on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Figures on how much the project will cost residential taxpayers have been revised. Last week, county officials said the property tax increase to cover the costs associated with a 30-year, $5 million construction loan would amount to about $12.20 per $1 million in assessed value. Chandler said that after talking with county Treasurer Tom Oken on Thursday, the figure is closer to $16 per $1 million. Both Oken and Chandler have stressed that the figures are estimates and that at this point, the ballot question and property tax increase are concepts.
The increase in the tax rate that supplies money to the library also would help cover extra operating costs of about $163,000 annually, Chandler said.
But City Council members aren’t likely to get involved in the discussion over project finances or the tax question. They are being asked to weigh the county’s land-use application. City and county planners are working together on the project because the library expansion has to fit in with the city’s plans for the redevelopment of Galena Plaza next door and also repairs to the Rio Grande Parking Garage, which lies below the plaza.
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Overall, the expansion is estimated at $10 million. The library’s board of directors wants to spend $5.3 million from an endowment for roughly half of the construction costs, with the construction loan covered by the property tax paying the balance.
The two-story addition on the library’s eastern side would add 7,198 square feet – 5,899 on the main level and 1,299 on the mezzanine level. The library building now has 31,703 square feet of floor space on three levels.
Chandler said the library was ready to put a question on the ballot last fall, but county commissioners gave higher election priority to the Healthy Community Fund tax extension, which voters approved. Commissioners didn’t want to put two tax questions on the November 2011 ballot.
Highlights of the library expansion plan include:
• A new children’s library to accommodate enhanced educational programs, including an interactive learning center and storytelling area.
• Expansion of the teen library with small study areas and tutoring space.
• Flexible large and small meeting-room space, including a community room for use during and outside the library’s regular hours.
• Relocation of the most popular library collections for improved access.
• Reconfiguration of pathways and book stacks to address safety and security concerns and to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
• Renovation of the existing space in keeping with the library’s original character and to maximize views and light.
• Upgrade of technological infrastructure to support digital collections and computer work areas.
• Greater connectivity to the city’s planned redesign of Galena Plaza, with amenities such as a covered walkway, an outdoor reading deck, wireless hotspot access and close proximity to a children’s play area and a venue for outdoor performances and events.
In April, the city Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve the library’s plans. However, some commissioners questioned the size of a canopy that will extend from the building’s roof about 16 feet from the facility’s eastern door, jutting into a section of Galena Plaza. Planners say the canopy – which would a “community porch” of sorts – is needed for structural-support reasons as well as aesthetic value and would provide an additional user amenity.
Council members are expected to discuss the canopy’s size and also a request to waive affordable-housing requirements. Chandler has said that the expansion won’t create the need for any additional workers.