Proponents of the Pitkin County Library expansion believe that if people take the time to learn about the 7,000-square-foot project, support increases. They point to a poll taken this summer, when 52 percent said they were in favor at the outset, but after 10 minutes of explanation about the details of the project, support jumped to 59 percent.
“That is our challenge,” said head librarian Kathy Chandler of getting their message out to an electorate that is being asked to fund the growth of a government agency.
One of the leaders of the group opposing the project isn’t sure who those people are.
“Everybody I talk to is against this,” said Lani White, a local real estate broker.
The campaign for Referendums 5A and 5B is on, with issues committees formed on both sides. 5B increases property taxes in order to allow the library to bond for $5.4 million — with a maximum repayment of $10.2 million — to build the expansion onto the existing 32,000-square-foot facility that opened in 1991. Referendum 5A would allow the library to increase taxes to fund an additional $141,000 per year in operating expenses once the new construction is complete.
Both sides plan to take out newspaper ads and participate in election forums, such as the Aspen Chamber Resort Association event on Tuesday.
The main points of the anti-library expansion campaign are that the project is too expensive, unnecessary and out of character architecturally with its surroundings.
“I know libraries are motherhood and apple pie, but just because they are motherhood and apple pie doesn’t mean we just build every proposal that comes around,” said Junee Kirk, also part of the committee against the library expansion.
Chandler said that the specifics of the library’s project have been vetted for years through its board of trustees. While the library has a $5 million endowment in the bank, which came through a donation, library officials felt that would not be sufficient to achieve the redesign staff feels is called for.
“We’d be spending a bunch of money to re-arrange the furniture,” she said.
The focal points of the proposed expansion are a community meeting room that will face Galena Plaza; a city park that sits between the library and the courthouse; moving the children’s library from the basement to the expansion onto the plaza; a revamped teen’s reading room and study area; and a canopy that extends 16 feet beyond the 44-foot expansion onto the plaza.
The plan also moves the library’s multimedia collection to the main level from the basement, while the nonfiction collection would be moved downstairs.
Proponents say library use has grown over the years, and that in 2011, 204,000 more items were checked out than in the prior year, with circulation jumping another 7.7 percent so far this year.
Anti-expansion campaign materials say that the children’s and teen’s area in the library are “underused.” White said she reached that conclusion after making daily visits since the summer.
The canopy will be a contemporary-looking addition that will reach 28 feet tall at its highest point. Library proponents point out that the local architect, Willis Pember, also designed an addition to the Red Brick School House on Hallam Street. For opponents, the canopy represents “bigger, bigger, bigger,” White said.
“We’re just saying bigger isn’t better,” she said.