Pitkin County commissioners like library’s plan for a downsized upgrade | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County commissioners like library’s plan for a downsized upgrade

Pitkin County commissioners gave the green light Tuesday to county librarian Kathy Chandler to pursue a scaled-back renovation of the main library on North Mill Street.

The commissioners didn’t allocate any money or approve any project specifics. Rather, they gave Chandler a thumbs-up to request design-build proposals. Having lost an election in November for a $10 million, 7,000-square-foot library renovation and expansion, Chandler made it clear to commissioners that she’ll pursue a physically smaller and financially cheaper upgrade of the 22-year-old building.

“We’re basically looking at cutting the cost of the project in half,” she said.

By reducing the project cost, Chandler will not have to ask voters for a tax increase. She plans to pay for the downsized upgrade with money from the library’s $6 million capital-reserve fund, which has been newly bolstered by a $1.3 million gift from an anonymous donor. She expects that there will be money left in the fund when the remodel/expansion is complete.

Two library-related ballot questions lost by large margins on Nov. 6. Chandler said she heard voters’ objections to the size and cost of those proposals, plus the fact that the expansion would have exceeded the boundary of library’s existing easement. A 16-foot canopy and external structural supports have been removed from the plans. The design details of the new proposal aren’t clear yet, but Chandler said they will adhere to strict size and budget limitations and will focus on fixing specific weaknesses of the current facility.

“There are things we were trying to fix that we are now willing to live with,” she said.

The main elements of the new proposal are:

  • A more secure children’s library
  • A new community meeting room that will be usable outside library hours
  • A smaller conference/training room
  • To move the most popular items to the main floor and move less popular items elsewhere
  • To create smaller study rooms for individuals and groups

Commissioners unanimously supported Chandler’s respect for voters’ wishes and her determination to improve a community icon.

“To me, the number one thing is libraries are not passé,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “They are an evolving institution within our community and our nation.”

Chandler drove home this point with numbers showing increased use of library materials. According to her background memo to the commissioners, “The library checked out nearly 16 percent more books and media in 2012 than in 2011, a total of 230,812 items. … As a simple snapshot of use, 1,060 people came to the library this past Monday, July 8th.”

Also key to the new library project is timing. In order to realize various efficiencies and reduce community disruption, Chandler and her board want to time their construction to coincide with the city of Aspen’s planned improvements to Galena Plaza, the Rio Grande parking garage and the mid-block alley that runs past the library.

If the county can have its plans ready by spring 2014, said Facilities Project Manager Jack Wheeler, “We tear up the plaza one time … and we only impact the area once.”

Commissioner George Newman said he’s “fully supportive of moving ahead,” and others agreed. Chandler will return to the Board of County Commissioners multiple times as the library board makes periodic decisions and the project takes shape. Even though the library will pay for the improvements itself, commissioners must approve money transfers from the library’s capital fund to its operating fund, and such transfers must occur before the architectural design phase of the project as well as the construction phase.

Chandler said she also plans to hold a series of public open houses so community members can watch the plans develop and offer their opinions.

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