Pitkin County Library gets green light for design phase

Jul 18, 2013

Jeremy Rosenshine browses the non-fiction collection at the Pitkin County Library. One of the improvements the library hopes to make with its new design plan is shorter shelves for easier access.
Credit Rebecca Kruth

On Tuesday, the Pitkin County Library got the go-ahead from county commissioners to begin gathering bids for a new design plan. Last November, voters struck down two ballot measures that would have raised taxes for library improvements. Aspen Public Radio’s Rebecca Kruth visited the Pitkin County Library to look at the new plans.

Inside the meeting room at the Pitkin County Library, more than a hundred children are waiting for “Tunes and Tales.” It’s one of the library’s storytelling events.

At the front of the room, children’s librarian Susan Keenan begins a tale about a grandmother on her way to see her granddaughter.

“But to get there, she had to walk through the forest,” Keenan said. “And in the forest were big, fierce, hungry animals!”

The kids shriek and giggle as Keenan’s grandmother character encounters a bear, a wolf and a tiger in the forest.

Today’s “Tunes and Tales” is just one of many programs the library offers for children. Most take place in the library’s meeting room.

Keenan says the location is far from ideal.

“We don’t have a space for the children to meet and have a program like this in a safe environment. They have to walk across the library, into another area,” she said. “It would be really great to have a space just for the children.”

Library director Kathy Chandler agrees.

“Even though the library looks wonderful, we know that in order to keep it relevant, we do need to make these changes.”

In fact, as an example, Chandler points to the children’s library which she says is a safety hazard.

“It’s just a couple of steps from the front door to one of Aspen’s busiest streets. That children’s room also serves as a pathway for people to walk through to go to the non-print materials in the library,” she said.

Chandler says because of the room’s outside access, librarians often get tied up with other library users who make the children’s library their main entrance and exit.

“The children’s librarians are actually circulating an awfully large percentage of the materials that are checked out of the library rather than just being able to concentrate on children’s programming and helping children and their parents find appropriate reading levels for their kids when they’re in the library,” she said.

For more than a year, the officials have hoped to expand the library building so the children’s room can have its own space and that other improvements can be made. Last November, voters thought they had gone too far.  Now they’re back with a scaled-back version of the design.

"Even though the library looks wonderful, we know that in order to keep it relevant, we do need to make these changes."

“After we looked at the building we were proposing and listened to things that people were objecting to around the time of the ballot, we’ve come back with a revised plan that is going to be within our means,” Chandler said.

The new plan would be financed by the library’s own capital reserve fund. A recent pledge of $1.3 million dollars from a donor not yet named helps too.

And there are other differences.

The revised design still includes an outside meeting room to be constructed on the library’s easement in Galena Plaza, only it’s smaller and no longer asks for an additional 16 feet of city property.

Chandler says an outside meeting room will be more accessible to the public, especially when the library isn’t open. All of this, she says is impossible in the current space.

“We looked hard at the layout of the building to try to accomplish some of these things, to make the children’s room more secure and to make it possible to use the meeting room outside of library hours,” Chandler said. “The only real configuration that works is to put the meeting room where the children’s room is which pushes the children’s room into an even less desirable location in the building.”

The 7,000 foot expansion would also include space for the children’s and young adult libraries as well as shorter, more accessible shelving. The shelves right now are not in compliance with disability regulations.  

The plan comes with a sense of urgency. The library hopes to begin next spring just as the City of Aspen is planning improvements on parking garage and alleyway next door.

“Our thought is, it makes a great deal of sense to move ahead with this project and do that in conjunction with the engineers and construction team that will be doing that work [on the parking garage], so that it’s a coordinated project, and we don’t have the city come in and re-waterproof, re-landscape,” Chandler said.

In the coming weeks, the library will put out a request for design proposals from architects and contractors.