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County library is undergoing

Aspen Times Staff Report

It’s about time.

Actually, the makeover that’s under way at the Pitkin County Library is about a lot more than repairing the broken clock that faces the busy intersection of Mill Street and Main Street in downtown Aspen.

Pitkin County librarian Kathy Chandler says it’s about turning a good facility into a great facility.

“It’s better to admit that mistakes were made and do something about them, rather than live with them,” she said, referring to some of the lighting problems in the stacks on the main floor. “It’s not often you get a chance to do what we’re doing here.”

What they’re doing, exactly, is remodeling the mezzanine, relocating the fiction section, recarpeting the main floor, expanding the music room and children’s library, shrinking the storage area and relocating the public meeting room, and installing new lighting, a new elevator and a new heating and cooling system. Upon completion, Chandler estimates the library will have another 7,500 square feet of usable space.

The cost of the work, which has been ongoing since late last spring, is expected to be about $1.9 million. Only $160,000 of that total came from taxes. “It’s the Alice Price Endowment Fund that’s paid for the vast majority of these improvements,” Chandler said.

The endowment was created in 1997, when El Paso, Texas, native Alice Price left about $3 million to the library in her will. Another million was donated by the estate of Doris Denker, a longtime Aspen resident. Together, the two donations have supplied the money needed to make some fairly significant changes at the library.

Regular patrons of the nine-year-old building have been putting up with the dust and noise that comes with construction for months now, but, for many, their patience is starting to pay off.

The most noticeable thing for book hounds is the relocation of the fiction section from the main floor to the mezzanine. Until this summer, the mezzanine sat unused and empty. But that was the plan all along, Chandler said. When the building was constructed in 1991, the library board decided that setting aside some extra space for future expansion was a good idea.

“The thing about libraries is they grow – it’s the nature of the beast,” Chandler said. “We’re always looking for books that we can withdraw, but still we bring in more than we can remove.”

Chandler said budget concerns often force library officials around the country to cut costs when they’re building a new library, with the result being a facility that is at capacity as soon as it’s finished. “We were just lucky to have a library board that was willing to take the heat for building a facility that was just a little too big,” she said.

The fiction section has been relocated to the mostly completed mezzanine, where readers will find the stacks better lit.

Once the project is completed in March, the nonfiction section will begin expanding into what was once the fiction area on the main floor. But in the meantime, that space is home to the library’s collection of music books and tapes.

The other thing library patrons will notice right away is the new carpet on the main floor. Chandler said even though they may have been able to squeeze a few more months out of the old carpet, it made sense to replace it

now because the shelves and books were removed temporarily last month to allow crews to work on the heating system. The heating system needed to be reworked, she said, to keep the mezzanine from getting too hot or too cold. “There was just one big heating zone,” she said, “and we knew that wasn’t going to work because when we put people up in the mezzanine, they would bake.”

Crews are currently completing work on the main level, and a stairway and elevator are still under construction. The elevator will run from the ground floor, where the children’s library is located, to the mezzanine. Unlike the other elevator in the building, it will not connect to the parking garage.

The real action with the renovation is currently going on downstairs, where the children’s library and the music room are being expanded. The children’s area will grow to include the hallway that goes back to the employee lounge and the lounge itself, adding perhaps a fifth in floor area.

The music room will nearly double in size, and once complete it will include all of the space that once belonged to the meeting room. Two small rooms, one for typing and one for computer training, will go in against the back wall of the music room.

The meeting room, meanwhile, is being moved into a large area that has been used for storage. A new employee lounge is also being carved out of the storage area.

On the main level there’s still some lighting to be installed.

Oh yeah, then there’s the matter of the clock. Just for good measure, the work crews are finishing the clock tower room, a small room with big windows that won’t be used for some time, mostly because they don’t need the space, yet.

A new clock mechanism – one that hopefully proves more reliable than the original – is also being installed.


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