Two-library plan gains momentum in midvalley | AspenTimes.com

Two-library plan gains momentum in midvalley

The midvalley library board will consider operating two facilities to better serve its constituency and get itself out of a political quandary.

The Basalt Regional Library District board of trustees is looking at a proposal to keep one library in downtown Basalt and build another in the El Jebel area.

The idea was first raised by board president Polly Pollard last month. She said she suggested it “to get something on the table that the entire board can support.”

The library district wants to construct a new facility, but the board has been split over where it should be built. One contingent wants it to remain in or near downtown Basalt. They say it is an important community asset that belongs in the core.

Pollard believes the library should be built in the West Basalt/El Jebel area, which she labeled “El JeBasalt.” Roughly two-thirds of the district’s population and two-thirds of its school-age children live in the densely populated El Jebel area, she said.

But Pollard has acknowledged that building one library in the El JeBasalt area would probably survive politically. Financing for the new library must be approved by voters. If the board is split over a location, the public is unlikely to approve funding.

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Pollard’s concept picked up steam at the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.

“I’m very sensitive to the issue that we need to serve the entire district,” said newly appointed board member Peter Frey.

But as with all debates about the library location, the details split the board. The six board members voting on the issue didn’t come close to consensus Tuesday night on whether the main library should be built in El JeBasalt with an annex in Basalt or vice versa.

In addition, there were differing opinions on whether the existing library building should be kept as the Basalt annex or a new facility should be built.

Joede Schoeberlein and Glenn Rappaport, the consultants for the library board, presented information that showed construction costs would be cheapest to use the existing facility at Lion’s Park and construct a new facility in the Willits subdivision.

Under their scenario, the existing library would become a branch. It would be remodeled at a cost of about $40,000. The main library of about 17,666 square feet would be constructed at Willits. The cost of that two-library scheme would be about $3.75 million, the consultants said.

However, Frey and board member James Brundige said it shouldn’t be assumed that a new library couldn’t be built in Basalt, even under the two-library scheme. And Frey noted that the library built in Basalt could be the main facility and one serving the El Jebel area could be a branch.

But library director Jean Winkler said she didn’t think voters would support the idea of building two new facilities but abandoning the existing building.

“I see taxpayers seeing it as wasteful,” she said. Winkler claimed that Basalt residents like the snug facility because it complements the small-town feel.

Frey countered with a claim that the existing facility is a “disaster” from an operations standpoint. He said long-term operating costs rather than one-time construction costs should influence the board’s decision.

El Jebel resident Bonnie Williams said a sense of fair play for the El Jebel area should enter into the board’s decision. She said that a bookmobile for the El Jebel area in the mid-1970s was so popular that the library district established a small branch at the El Jebel mall. The space was provided for free by Williams’ family, the Crawfords.

When the district approached voters with a property tax to build the library at Basalt’s Lion’s Park, Williams said the Crawfords pledged their support in return for a promise that the El Jebel branch wouldn’t be closed.

They received the promise. However, when the Basalt library was built, the branch was closed anyway on grounds that the district couldn’t afford the operating expenses.

Williams said she fears that the library district will once again ask for property-tax support without improving service in the El Jebel area.

Prior to looking at the two-library scheme, the district was looking at three sites to locate one facility of about 20,000 square feet. The sites in the running are Lion’s Park, the Levinson property and Willits.

The town is in the process of acquiring the Levinson property. It will dedicate the portion by the Roaring Fork River. The portion by the road, where Taqueria el Nopal is located, would be redeveloped. The library and a nature center for the Roaring Fork Conservancy have been mentioned as potential builders.

Building one library of about 20,000 square feet would cost between $4.4 million and $4.5 million at the downtown sites. It would cost about $4.1 million at Willits, according to the consultants.

The board will resume the debate in April by taking a look at estimated operating costs for different scenarios.

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