Will Pitkin County Library expansion make it to ballot?
June 22, 2011
ASPEN – The designs for an envisioned expansion of the Pitkin County Library are advancing, but county commissioners have yet to decide whether voters will be asked in November to finance the project.
The library’s architectural team reviewed the latest schematic drawings for the roughly 10,000-square-foot library with the commissioners on Tuesday, but the discussion gravitated toward the timing of its construction.
“There has been criticism of why we’re even considering this, and I want people to know why we would consider this,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, urging librarian Kathy Chandler to explain the relationship between the library and county government.
The library has a dedicated property tax, and is governed by a board of directors, but couldn’t take a funding proposal to voters without commissioner approval.
“It is a somewhat murky relationship,” Chandler said. “I think that the library board would not want to proceed with any issues going onto the ballot without having the county commissioners support it.”
Triggering the planning for the library’s expansion, which would cost nearly $10 million, is the city’s intention to fix the leaking Rio Grande Parking Garage roof, which forms the plaza onto which the library would expand, on the east side of the building. It makes sense to do both projects at once, or at least put the structural elements in place in the garage in order to accommodate a future library project, Chandler has said.
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The latest designs call for a two-story expansion that extends 44 feet into the plaza in places, with an additional, open-air, covered “arcade” that extends another 16 feet out. The latter feature would allow the library to make use of a supporting wall in the garage that is located 60 feet out into the plaza, explained architect Willis Pember.
The covered area, which would likely hold tables and chairs, would strengthen the interface between the plaza and the library, commissioners were told, and Commissioner George Newman agreed it has the potential to increase the vibrancy of the little-used plaza.
Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested the library consider a two-part ballot question. The first question would seek voter OK to use funds from an existing $5.3 million endowment to the library to build the support structure necessary for the eventual expansion. No borrowing of money would be necessary. The second question would propose the financing to move ahead with the actual expansion.
“I think we should avoid trying to go with an all-or-nothing approach,” Richards said.
Newman said he wasn’t likely to support putting a library financing question on the ballot this fall if renewal of the county’s Healthy Community Fund property tax is also on the ballot.
The county is preparing to poll a sampling of voters to gauge their sentiment on the community fund tax, which is currently set to expire at the end of 2012.
The library could pay for the structural work out of the $5.3 million it has on hand, Chandler said. That move wouldn’t need voter approval, but Richards urged taking it to a vote anyway to get voter “buy-in” into the bigger project.
The architectural work that has been done to date is also being paid from library moneys, not the county’s general fund, Chandler noted.
Richards praised the project designs.
“I think these designs are progressing phenomenally to a real masterpiece of design,” she said.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield, however, panned a proposed fireplace in a public reading room.
The building addition and reconfiguration of existing space would create a meeting room that accommodates about 170 people, moves the children’s library and music library to the ground floor, and creates a quiet reading room, group and private study areas, and a second-floor, outdoor patio, among other features.
The addition has been envisioned since before the existing library was constructed, Chandler said, describing the project as creating a 21st century facility.