Library looks at facility expansion

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Preston Young, 4, OF Grand Junction, picks out a book Tuesday at the Mesa County Library District central library in downtown Grand Junction, which officials say is too small and outdated to serve an increasing number of users.

Unwilling to ask voters for a tax increase for new construction and unable to generate any momentum thus far on the redevelopment of several blocks of the northern end of downtown Grand Junction, Mesa County Public Library District officials are seriously considering dipping into a pool of capital construction dollars to expand the central library.

Library staff and the district’s board of trustees are beginning to explore how much additional space they need and how much they can afford. The trustees are expected to host an open house next month to gather feedback from the public and could make a decision by the end of October about whether to renovate the 60-year-old building.

“We need to do something,” Library Director Eve Tallman said. “It’s been obvious for a decade now.”

Following the defeat of three statewide tax-cutting and debt-limiting ballot measures last fall, trustees opened discussions about how to spend millions of dollars the library has accumulated over the last several years. Tallman said she expects the library to have a roughly $4.5 million fund balance by the end of this year.

The library spent the last few years upgrading its branches in Fruita, Clifton and Orchard Mesa, and last week it closed on the $400,000 purchase of a building at 119 W. Third St. in Palisade to which it will relocate its Palisade branch. Tallman has pushed the board to consider opening a new branch on the Redlands or near Mesa Mall, but a majority of trustees haven’t shown much interest in that idea.

That leaves administrators to focus on the central library at 530 Grand Ave., a 33,000-square-foot facility that originally served as a Safeway grocery store. Officials say it’s too small and outdated to serve the needs of a base of users that continues to grow.

A total of 478,066 people visited the library this year through July 31, a 13 percent increase over the same time last year. More than 816,000 items have been circulated, a 9 percent jump over last year, according to library spokesman Bob Kretschman.

Voters rejected property tax increases in 2003 and 2004 that would have funded the construction and operation of a new central library, and library trustees have ruled out another election.

The library, Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction, the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Junction Housing Authority partnered a few years ago to pursue the so-called Catalyst Project, a proposed reconstruction of several downtown blocks between Fourth and Sixth streets and Grand and Chipeta avenues that could feature a new central library, a new senior recreation center, housing and retail space. There have been talks of bringing in a private developer to help provide capital.

But the project has yet to progress beyond the discussion phase, largely because of the recession.

“The board wanted to give the Catalyst Project time to see if we could partner with these other agencies. We’ve been trying to rally those other agencies for a long time now, and we really aren’t any closer than we were a couple of years ago,” Tallman said.

She noted the library remains interested in being part of a potential public-private partnership for development in the area.

It remains to be seen what an expanded central library might look like, but officials say the list of needs includes a large community room or multipurpose space, a new heating and cooling system and a new elevator. Construction would likely occur on the south side of the building, pushing it closer to Grand Avenue.

A date for a public open house hasn’t been set. The library board’s October meeting will be Oct. 27.


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