Voters could decide on library branch |

Voters could decide on library branch

It appears likely that midvalley voters will decide this year whether to fund construction of a new main library in Basalt and a branch in the El Jebel area.

The Basalt Regional Library District’s board of directors voted 3-1 last night to focus on a proposal to build a 14,000-square-foot facility on the Levinson property west of downtown Basalt along with a 7,000-square-foot branch in Willits. Willits is the subdivision that’s technically located in west Basalt but widely regarded as part of the El Jebel area.

“I would like a plan that gives every taxpayer something positive to vote for,” said board member Peter Frey. “Everybody has a reason to vote for this proposal.”

Frey’s proposal for the main facility and branch solution was supported by board members Bruce Gabow and James Brundige. Laura Anderson opposed it because she said it was premature to designate the Levinson property as the preferred site for a main library and Willits as the home of a branch. She wanted to delay site-selection preferences until next month.

Frey touted that plan as a likely solution to the political dilemma facing the library district. A strong faction of Basalt residents wants to keep the library near downtown Basalt. They say that helps preserve Basalt’s character and keeps a close relationship between the elementary and middle schools and the library.

A second faction with a growing voice wants a library in the El Jebel area – where slightly less than two-thirds of the library district’s population resides. A group called the People for a Library at Willits collected 168 signatures in a petition drive that supports their cause and submitted it to the library board.

Karen Signell, a co-founder of the Willits group, said residents in the west side of the library district want a library for the same reasons that old town Basalt residents want to keep it there – providing easy access for children, providing a pedestrian-friendly facility and maintaining an attractive center for the town.

“It seems to me that it’s natural for people who live in town to want to keep what they have,” Signell said. “However, I hope that town people and district representatives can open their minds and hearts and imagine our wishes, too. Our wishes are similar to theirs.”

Frey’s proposal would increase the size of a downtown library from 3,400 square feet to 14,000 square feet. Residents in the west end of the district would have their own facility that’s about twice as large as Basalt’s existing library.

While the library district’s proposal may end the “us vs. them” battle between old town Basalt and the west side of the district, it comes at an extra cost.

Building a main library in Basalt and a branch in Willits, at a combined 21,000 square feet, would cost an estimated $4.75 million. That is more than the estimated price for any single-site proposal, according to figures estimated by Civic Forum, a consulting firm helping the library board sort through the issues.

In addition to construction costs, library executive director Jean Winkler estimated that annual operating costs for two libraries would be about $1.1 million compared to roughly $700,000 annually for an expanded, single facility.

The library currently scrapes by with revenues of $281,000.

The library district board hopes to mount an effective campaign this fall and approach voters for funding for new facilities in November. The board has less than three months to determine details such as site or sites and amount of funding to be sought.

One important step will be to determine how much it will cost to acquire part of the Levinson site, where the Taqueria el Nopal restaurant is located just west of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park.

The Basalt town government bought the property last month for $1.9 million with open space funds.

The half of the site closest to Two Rivers Road will be sold for community purposes and for commercial redevelopment. Proceeds from the sale will be returned to the open space fund.

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