Basalt officials unveil ‘what a library should be’ |

Basalt officials unveil ‘what a library should be’

Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesChildren find Madagascar on a globe in the new Basalt library Saturday.

BASALT – Ten years after an occasionally contentious process started with a goal of building a new public library, Basalt got the job done Saturday.

People feel it was worth the wait, considering the final product.

The $11 million, 21,000-square-foot facility features stunning architecture, an open interior bathed in natural light, incredible views of the Roaring Fork River and Basalt Mountain via a 27-foot-high glass ceiling, and more space devoted to kids than the total square footage of the old library. Other features – from banks of computers to wider selections of DVDs and a new collection of music CDs – were showcased in a grand opening Saturday.

“I think this is beyond anyone’s imaging. It’s a fabulous space. It was worth it,” said Barbara Milnor, assistant library director.

“This is what a library should be.”

The library opened Jan. 4, but roughly 100 people braved frigid temperatures Saturday morning for the grand opening. Library officials surrendered the keys of the old facility at Lions Park to their landlord, the town of Basalt. Then the contingent marched two or so blocks to the new library by the Basalt post office. The Boy Scouts raised the American flag, and library director Kristen Becker cut the ribbon, then invited people inside to warm up and check out the new digs.

Basaltines young and old turned out and were wowed.

“Awesome,” said Savannah Elliott, a sixth grader at Basalt Middle School, when asked her impression of the new facility. The avid reader spent a good deal of time at the old library. She’s so impressed by the new facility that she anticipates spending even more time there.

Savanah and her dad, Thomas Elliott, broke in a new chess set the library staff placed on a table in an inviting corner that features glass walls. (Savanah was sharpening her skills and later reported she went on to beat her dad.)

“Look at the views. You’ve got the river right here. You can see through the building. This is just fantastic,” Thomas Elliott said.

The new library is a parent’s dream, he added. There is plenty of space for a student to work on homework. There are numerous computers dedicated to kids and young adults, so they have Internet access.

Anne Freedman, a retired university professor, was a regular patron of the old library and has already visited the new facility several times. The new library will really serve as a community meeting place because it has so much to offer, she said. The largest meeting room holds 80 people. A smaller room can also be used for community functions.

The program lineup already includes concerts, movies and speakers. Freedman belongs to two reading clubs that have already taken advantage of the library.

“It’s just a great thing for a small community like this,” she said of the building. It mostly offsets the town’s loss last year of Town Center Booksellers, a downtown bookstore that closed.

The new library features comfortable chairs and desks scattered in inviting spaces and nooks. A popular spot in winters will be a corner where chairs are clustered around a gas fireplace.

“There are places to sit down. We had two chairs in the old library,” Milnor said. “I’ve been watching all week, we have people who come in, they go right to the back where it’s quiet and the seats are. They’re doing all kinds of things. We have businessmen come in, and they use our wireless and our business center. It’s very gratifying.”

She worked at the old library for 22 years. The 3,000-square-foot facility got to the point where it could not meet the needs of the growing midvalley.

“We’re open now and ready to see how we can serve the public,” Milnor said.

Anton Uhl looked on Saturday while his kids Sage, 10, and Griffin, 8, filled out paperwork to get their new library cards. Anton said he had one bookworm and one technology enthusiast, and was thrilled to see the library has plenty to offer each of them.

Sage said he likes “pretty much everything” about the new library, especially the aspen tree trunks that serve as the centerpiece of the kids’ room, and the big glass windows.

Griffin is looking forward to Wii Wednesdays, when kids will have access to the interactive video games.

Anton, born and raised in Aspen, recalled attended a similar event 40-some years ago.

“It’s kind of exciting with two library openings in a lifetime,” he said. “When the one in Aspen opened across from Paepcke Park with Walter Cronkite and all that, I was about their age.” (The Pitkin County Library relocated to its present spot in 1991.)

Basalt officials first kicked around the idea of building a bigger facility in 2000.

“In May of 2000, Jean Winkler, then librarian, suggested to the board that it was time to start thinking about building a new library because we were outgrowing the old one. So it’s been a long hard labor,” said Polly Pollard, a Basalt resident and former library board member who helped lay a lot of the groundwork that led to the new facility.

The planning process had false starts and bickering between factions over where it should be located. Voters rejected a site in El Jebel, and the library district abandoned a different proposal for a site near Tacquiera el Nopal restaurant. A group of Basalt residents headed by Charlie Cole negotiated sales that got the current site into the hands of the town government, then the library district.

Jim and Carolyn Kent, Basalt residents who are involved in numerous civic endeavors, said the right facility ended up in the right place. The effort was worth the time and debate because the facility, if done right, had the potential to become the focus for the community, Jim Kent said. They agreed it was done right.

“As we infill Basalt, we’ve really got a pretty exciting community because it’s a pedestrian community, not a community that’s designed to pass cars through,” he said.

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