Revamp the library for the future; vote ‘yes’ on 5A and 5B

Aspen Daily News Staff Report
There’s always a delicate balancing act when it comes to increased taxes and new development but if we are to consider what’s in the best interest for the community long-term, then sometimes we have to accept both.

Such is the case with the Pitkin County Library expansion, which appears as referendums 5A and 5B on the ballot. Approving both measures will allow the library, currently at 31,703 square feet, to expand by a little more than 7,000 square feet, and pay for its ongoing associated costs.

5A asks voters within the library district to increase taxes $141,000 annually to pay for costs related to the expansion, such as cleaning and utility costs and ongoing capital replacement needs.

5B asks voters to authorize $5.4 million in bonds, to be repaid for as long as 25 years, to fund the expansion. The maximum repayment with interest could be $10.2 million.

Combined, the added cost to taxpayers for a state-of-the-art library, which we argue can be the community’s civic center and gathering place with the right planning and design, is fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things. For $1 million of residential property, it will cost $17 a year; for every $100,000 in residential property, it’s $1.70. For commercial property worth $1 million, the tax would be $61.59 annually.

One of the reasons this is worth taxing ourselves now is that the library already has a $5 million endowment given by generous donors who had the forethought to specifically earmark it for a remodel and expansion, knowing that needs and uses will inevitably change. We believe librarian Kathy Chandler and the library’s board of trustees when they say that the endowment is not enough to achieve the redesign that they believe is called for.

We recognize that the current facility isn’t filling the needs that the public demands of a 21st century library, where multimedia, access to technology, and community services are taking increasing precedence over hard-bound books. A remodel and expansion, designed to meet those needs for decades to come, is warranted. There is a lot of wasted or underutilized space in the library, which opened in 1991.

The highlights of the proposed expansion are a community meeting room that will face Galena Plaza, which is a city park that sits between the library and the courthouse, and a contemporary-designed canopy that extends 16 feet beyond the 44-foot expansion onto the plaza.

The community lacks any decent meeting room space, which in the expansion plans is designed to “lock off” from the library so it can be used independently of the facility.

Another reason to vote “yes” on the expansion is that this is really the only opportune time to engage in construction because it will happen concurrently with already planned repairs to the Rio Grande parking garage, located underneath the library. City officials also plan to make improvements to Galena Plaza, and an outdoor area with the canopy is likely the best chance to reactivate an area that is now considered dead space and woefully underused.

The library is 20 years old and an upgrade is due. How people use libraries is changing and the space needs to be configured to reflect that. Part of the plans include moving the children’s library from the basement to the expansion onto the plaza; a revamped teen’s reading room and study area; moving the library’s multimedia collection to the main level from the basement, while the nonfiction collection would be moved downstairs.

Quite frankly, the basement level of the library is horrible — from the unsecured, off-the-street children’s area to the low ceilings to a nearly unusable meeting room because of its cold, windowless design.

We support moving the heart of the library’s function to the main level where it can be accessed more easily and for all to see, particularly with new windows all around, creating a sunlit environment.

Currently, the library does not have areas for private study spaces, where tutoring and one-on-one meetings can occur. The remodel and expansion allows for this, and is an example of the changing uses of libraries in the country.

We acknowledge that we are taking a leap of faith in leaving it up to planners and architects on the design of the 28-foot-tall canopy, which would take up a good portion of the plaza. We implore the architects to not get too out-of-the-box with their contemporary design in what should be Aspen’s most civic area.

We also question library officials’ position that the expansion does not require any new employees, therefore they do not have to provide any new affordable housing. Chandler has explained how the space will function with the same number of employees, but we will be interested to see the results of an employee audit the library has agreed to conduct a few years after the expansion is complete.

Despite holding reservations about the project when it was first presented, the Aspen Daily News editorial board has come around to the position that the expansion is well conceived and a worthy tax investment that will improve our community. Please vote “yes” on 5A and 5B.


To view all of the Daily News’ endorsements for the 2012 election, log onto aspendailynews.com and click on the tab “2012 endorsements” located on the left-hand side of the home page.