Library officials dust off plans for remodeling, expansion

Steven Gattis of Fruita relaxes in the teen section of the Mesa County Public Library’s central branch at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue in Grand Junction, while reading “Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Want,” a fantasy novel by Obert Skye.



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Steven Gattis of Fruita relaxes in the teen section of the Mesa County Public Library’s central branch at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue in Grand Junction, while reading “Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Want,” a fantasy novel by Obert Skye.

Bolstered by voters’ rejection of three statewide tax-cutting and debt-limiting ballot measures, the Mesa County Public Library District is opening discussions about how to spend the millions of capital-construction dollars it has accumulated over the past several years.

The options include expanding the central library downtown, replacing the branch library in Palisade, opening a new branch to serve the Redlands and north area of the Grand Valley, or some combination of those projects.

Mesa County voters in 2004 and 2005 rejected property tax increases that would have funded the construction and operation of a new central library at 530 Grand Ave. Library officials backed away from those more comprehensive construction plans at that point and completed an $820,000 remodeling of the building in 2007.

But Library Director Eve Tallman said as the number of people using the library and services has increased in recent years, it’s become clear the 33,000-square-foot building that originally served as a Safeway grocery store is too small.

“The big one that affects the public the most is we have standing-room-only crowds at events we host,” she said, adding the library could use more meeting and gathering spaces for the public.

Tallman said the library also is faced with the high cost of maintaining several other buildings that house administrative offices and support services. One of those buildings, the Flintstone Building, was so expensive to maintain that the library tore it down earlier this year.

The library has set aside about $6 million in its capital fund. Tallman said a recent study estimated the cost at $8 million for an expansion and remodeling project that would add a 200-seat auditorium and 6,000 square feet of office and meeting-room space and replace the library’s heating and cooling system and elevator.

Tallman said the library’s board of directors needs to discuss whether it’s worth remodeling the central library and, if so, where it ranks on its list of building priorities. She said the library doesn’t have the money to build a new facility and doesn’t plan to ask the voters for a tax increase.

“We’re not going to have an election, so what we need to do is do something with the money we have saved now,” she said.

Board President Mark Martin-Williams said any decision to pursue a remodeling of the downtown library would only be made after careful consideration.

“I think we all are grateful that we have property and reserves to consider it and look at it and have a discussion, but I don’t think anybody is comfortable to move forward on that,” he said.

Library officials are still exploring a larger effort with Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction, the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority, the Grand Junction Housing Authority and private developers to redevelop several blocks surrounding the library.

A new library could be part of those plans, but officials acknowledge it may take several years for those plans to come to fruition, given the economy and real estate market.

“Personally, I don’t want to make any hasty decisions down there because that’s where we have the opportunity to do something significant,” Martin-Williams said.

At the same time, Tallman and Martin-Williams acknowledge a remodeling of the central library may benefit from the economy.

“Do we want to act because construction is affordable now and because construction companies need work now? That’s why there would be an urgency to it, because the climate is good,” Tallman said.

While revamping the downtown location is contemplated, the library is exploring the replacement of its Palisade branch and the creation of a new branch in the area of 24 and Patterson roads.

The library could partner with Palisade to relocate the branch from the Community Center to the old high school, which the town is turning into a civic center.

A new branch would serve thousands of residents living on the Redlands and north of town.

“There’s an opportunity to serve a growing demographic and meet a large number of citizens’ needs,” Martin-Williams said.



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