Pitkin County Library ponders: What now?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – With $5 million available to make changes at the Pitkin County Library, library officials are studying what can be done to improve the facility after voters shot down a $10 million expansion plan last fall.

“We don’t want to disrespect the vote,” library director Kathy Chandler told county commissioners Tuesday. On the other hand, voters who rejected November’s ballot question because they didn’t support a tax increase to repay $5.4 million in borrowing, or didn’t favor the roughly 7,200-square-foot expansion as it was designed, may not have any objection to certain elements of the proposal, she reasoned.

With about $5 million available in an endowment fund, the library is looking at how best to address some of the needs that were to be part of the proposed expansion and interior renovation, including a more secure children’s library, the provision of study rooms and providing a community meeting room with a separate entrance so it can be used outside of library hours. Moving heavily used collections from the basement to the main floor was also a goal.

“We lost the election, but the needs of the library didn’t go away,” Chandler said.

And, the library has been sitting on $5 million for some time.

“At some point, I think it’s responsible stewardship to look at the fact that that money isn’t being used for the library, for the betterment of the community,” Chandler said.

She received no argument from commissioners.

“The vote wasn’t about the money you have,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. “For me, what the vote meant was, ‘You’re not getting an additional $5 million.'”

Chandler said she’s considering closing the library for one day during the coming spring offseason so the library staff and board of trustees can discuss ideas that have come up to reconfigure the facility – either internally or with a smaller addition than what had been proposed.

“We’re trying to see how much we can make happen within our current footprint,” Chandler said.

Some changes could occur for almost no capital outlay, she said.

In the meantime, library officials are continuing to work with the city of Aspen on structural supports within the Rio Grande Parking Garage to accommodate a future library expansion. The city plans to redo Galena Plaza, the grassy area to the east side of the library that is also the roof of the garage. It is leaking and needs to be replaced.

Library officials have stressed the need to retain the facility’s 44-foot easement, which extends onto the plaza, for future use, Chandler said. The goal is to make sure the city’s plaza redesign accommodates potential future use of that 44-foot strip by the library.

In addition, the library wants to make sure structural supports at the 44-foot mark are installed in the garage when the plaza is replaced. If the city wants the supports placed farther out to facilitate the configuration of parking within the garage, the county will consider it, but the library has no intention to expand beyond 44 feet, commissioners were told.

The failed expansion proposal called for the placement of supports 60 feet out from the library building, and the expansion design included a canopy that connected to those support pillars. The canopy was panned by some critics of the expansion plan.


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