Community input next for Pitkin County Library expansion |

Community input next for Pitkin County Library expansion

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A $550,000 allocation to design an expansion of the Pitkin County Library won support from county commissioners Tuesday with one caveat: None of the money can be spent – yet.

Conceptual architectural plans have already been completed and final design work is the next step, explained Librarian Kathy Chandler. She proposed spending $200,000 from projected library revenues next year and using $350,000 from employee housing funds to finance the architectural designs for the project. Ultimately the housing money, dedicated to housing for library staffers, would be repaid from a library endowment fund that currently holds about $5.3 million, she said.

The housing money is earning little interest, while the endowment is more aggressively invested, so it makes sense to use the housing funds in the short term, she explained.

Commissioners were OK with the financing scheme, but called for a vetting of the conceptual plans – in essence, what the library board is proposing – before going any further.

Presentations to the commissioners, the City Council and the community should be the next step, said Commissioner Rachel Richards.

“There’s no reason to design it until there’s been kind of a conceptual level of approval,” she said.

Seeking public input on what’s proposed is a crucial part of the process, Chandler agreed. Community focus groups were convened as part of the conceptual planning, she noted.

The library is planning the expansion to coincide with the city’s replacement of the roof on the Rio Grande parking garage. Structural reinforcements in the garage will be part of that project, allowing the library to expand outward onto Galena Plaza, which sits atop the garage.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield agreed with putting the footings in place for a library expansion, but said he’s not sure he supports moving ahead with the expansion itself.

“I’m not convinced that the timing is right and the need is here,” he said. “I’m not sure, really, if we should be moving beyond the structural [work].”

The city has yet to decide what it wants to do with a rebuilt Galena Plaza – the open, grassy area with benches and planters located between the back door of the library and the side entrance to the Pitkin County Courthouse. It has been the focus of numerous discussions about how to make the area a more active space.

“It is necessary to work closely with the city,” Hatfield said.

The library has an easement to expand 44 feet to the east, out onto the plaza. The envisioned expansion would create about 9,400 square feet of additional library space in a two-story addition. As part of the project, the interior of the existing library would see a major renovation, according to Chandler.

The plans include bringing the children’s area up from the basement to the ground floor, putting the nonfiction collection on the basement level, adding study rooms and creating a meeting room that can be accessed for public use even when the library is closed. Second-floor deck space that takes advantage of the outdoor views is also proposed in the conceptual drawings.

Richards suggested an exhibit area focusing on the recently discovered prehistoric animals near Snowmass Village also be considered.

The needs of the library – and library users – have changed greatly since the existing facility opened in September 1991, according to Chandler, particularly given the explosion of the Internet as an information source and the ability to acquire books quickly from other libraries, reducing the pressure on the in-house collection.

“It’s not so much a warehouse for books as it is a place where people can come in and interact with the material,” she said. “New libraries look very different than what our library looks like.”