Pitkin County Library pro, con forces face off
October 17, 2012
ASPEN – Supporters of a proposed expansion of the Pitkin County Library touted the project Tuesday as the way for the facility to embrace the future, while opponents suggested that the library should work within its current walls to make improvements.
Both sides presented their views at a forum hosted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association at the Limelight Hotel. The audience was sparse, possibly because the event conflicted with the televised presidential debate, but the forum will be rebroadcast on GrassRoots TV.
The library project is the focus of questions 5A and 5B on the county’s Nov. 6 ballot. Question 5A seeks a $141,000 increase in taxes annually for operation of the renovated and expanded library; 5B seeks voter authorization to borrow $5.4 million, with a repayment cost of $10.2 million (with interest) within 25 years. The library has about $5 million in an endowment fund to put toward the project.
The biggest point of contention between the pro side, represented by library board of trustees officers Barbara Reid and John Wilkinson, and the opposing voices of longtime local residents Junee Kirk and Tom Marshall was the price tag.
Kirk, registered agent for the issue committee Save Our Library and Civic Plaza, repeatedly asserted that the project will be a $20 million expenditure, while Wilkinson countered that it’s a $10 million project for which the library already has $5 million. The debt will cost $1.70 per year for a residential property valued at $100,000, or $17 for a $1 million home, until it’s paid off, he said.
Kirk tallied up the interest and ongoing operating expenses in her calculation, prompting Wilkinson to point out that one doesn’t add all the future expenses of owning a car into the purchase price.
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Kirk called the existing library, at 31,703 square feet, the largest per capita in Colorado. Its present size simply makes it the 27th largest in the state, Wilkinson countered. It would move up to 17th with the expansion, he said. Wilkinson later called the per-capita statistic irrelevant, as the local library serves both locals and thousands of resort visitors each year.
“It’s the No. 1-visited public building in Pitkin County,” he said, citing more than 200,000 visitors last year.
Marshall lumped the library in with a slew of public expansion projects that include the Aspen Art Museum, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, Aspen Valley Hospital and the schools.
“It seems like the private sector gets hammered when they want to build anything bigger … but government seems to have carte blanche to build these Taj Mahals when it comes to government buildings,” he said.
The library has the ability to add 9,000 square feet, expanding onto the plaza, but decided about 7,000 square feet would suffice, Wilkinson noted.
Reid and Wilkinson outlined the plans to move the children’s library to a more secure spot on the ground floor, provide much-in-demand meeting space and study rooms, and let the library better interact with the adjacent Galena Plaza, a little-used public space most of the time.
“They should use their own $5 million endowment to do their reconfiguration within their existing walls,” Kirk said.
Renovating the existing library will mean bringing it up to Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, which means the facility would lose one-third of the stacks that house its fiction collection in the library mezzanine, Wilkinson said.
An outside canopy, to be extended from the expanded library onto the plaza, also received some discussion. It has proven a controversial element of the design.
Kirk called it “an architectural signature piece rather than serving some purpose” and predicted that it will hinder use of the plaza for summertime theatrical performances that have taken place there.
Reid explained that the pillars that will hold up the canopy have a structural purpose associated with both the library and the Rio Grande parking garage that sits beneath the plaza. The design of the canopy was modified to respond to concerns during City Council review, Reid added.
“We actually do care what people feel about this project,” she said, predicting that the library expansion and addition of a meeting space that can open up to the plaza will help enliven an underutilized outdoor space.
What the library will do if the ballot questions don’t pass is something that hasn’t yet been discussed, Wilkinson said.