Library expansion is cost-effective, creative

Voters in Mesa County made it clear in 2003 and 2004 — albeit by narrow margins — that they didn’t support a tax increase to pay for a large new downtown library.

So the Library District regrouped. It began squirreling some of its annual operating funds. And it began re-evaluating its proposed expansion of the Central Library at the corner of Fifth Street and Grand Avenue.

This month, the library embarks on a 10-month project to expand and renovate that library building, and it is doing so without raising taxes, largely using money that it has on hand.

The library administration and the Library District board deserve accolades for pursuing the project in such a manner. But, this being Mesa County, library officials have been criticized for the past few weeks because of the expansion plans.

It’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, some have said. It’s not big enough to accomplish what’s needed. It won’t have a large enough children’s area or enough computer space. Better to do nothing for now, and try for a different project at some point in the future when, perhaps, voters will approve a tax increase.

Critics certainly have a right to express their views on what the Library District is planning. But we respectfully disagree. There are both a need and an opportunity right now.

The Mesa County library system has seen 40 percent growth in the past three years, according to Library Director Eve Tallman. That’s based on the number of visitors to the library and all its branches, as well as the number of items checked out.

The most rapid growth is in the library branch facilities such as those in Fruita and Palisade, Tallman said. Still, “65 percent of our use is at the downtown library,” she added. “About 1,500 people a day come through its doors.”

Recognizing that growth at the Central Library isn’t projected to be as high as at other library locations, the Library District evaluated its needs at the downtown library for the next three decades. As a result, the expansion will produce a 45,000-square-foot building, much smaller than the 75,000 square feet that were contemplated back in 2003, but still 28 percent larger than the existing library.

The expanded and remodeled library will make better use of the children’s reading space, will have as many computers as the current facility and more spaces for people with their own laptops or tablets to utilize the library’s wireless connection.

The entire project will cost an estimated $6.7 million, including asbestos abatement and a temporary move.

The library will fund $6.1 million of the cost from its savings. Contributions from other local entities will cover the remainder of the cost. Additionally, the Mesa County Public Library Foundation is embarking on a $1.25 million capital campaign that will help ensure there is money available for future upgrades and additions to the library branch facilities.

The expansion effort and capital campaign are fiscally responsible efforts that will significantly improve an important public amenity in this community. They deserve widespread public support.


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