Palisade pushes for new library branch

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Sean Doyle, 11, and his brother Jacob Doyle, 6 working on the computers at the Mesa County Library, Palisade branch.

Palisade town leaders are making their pitch to the Mesa County Public Library District to relocate the Palisade branch to a larger space in the town’s slowly developing civic center, claiming the library can save money now by building in a down economy.

But even though the library district’s lease on its existing Palisade branch runs out in three months, library administrators and members of the library’s board of trustees aren’t ready yet to dip into the library’s fund balance to pay for a new facility. They are wary of declining tax revenue and the fact it could take several years before the civic center, where the new branch would relocate, is completed.

The two groups talked for a little more than an hour during a library board meeting Thursday night and committed to nothing other than talking further.

Palisade hopes to piggyback on the library’s efforts in recent years to upgrade its branches. The Clifton and Orchard Mesa branches moved into larger spaces, and a new $1.9 million Fruita branch opened last month in the Fruita Community Center.

“Now is an opportune time for us to move forward together on another project, this time on the east end of the valley,” Town Administrator Tim Sarmo told library trustees during the meeting.

The Palisade branch had the fifth-highest circulation among the library district’s eight branches in 2010. The 33,493 items checked out marked a 12 percent increase over 2009.

Town officials want to usher the 3,300-square-foot branch, which currently operates in a trailer on the three-acre site of the old Palisade High School, into a 5,000-square-foot space inside the school. The town is in the process of converting the 42,000-square-foot school into a civic center.

The cost of a new Palisade branch could range from $550,000 to $650,000.

Sarmo urged the library to act now to take advantage of lower construction costs and savings from having a general contractor who’s on-site and working and won’t have to mobilize.

He also played up the fact the civic center already has a tenant: a new 7,000-square-foot gymnasium that opened last summer.

Library Director Eve Tallman said she is “very intrigued” by the idea of a new Palisade branch, but she and trustees pointed out they’re grappling with other capital-construction ideas and needs. Those include talks of creating a branch near Mesa Mall to serve the Redlands and north-area residents and pursuing a large, mixed-use development downtown that, at some point, would result in a new central library. The library district currently has a $5.2 million fund balance from which to draw capital-construction money.

In addition, Tallman and trustees are concerned about how long it will take to complete construction on the civic center. A lack of other tenants in the building could create, according to Tallman, a “haunted house effect” and make the library a target for vandalism.

The town plans to eventually relocate town administration, the Police Department and Palisade Town Board chambers to the civic center and build a new fire station adjacent to it. Trustees on a few occasions during Thursday’s meeting pressed Sarmo to estimate when the civic center would build out, but Sarmo wouldn’t do it, acknowledging the town doesn’t have the money and isn’t sure where funding will come from in the future.

“I can’t hazard a guess,” he said.

Library trustees acknowledged they’re worried about a dip in property tax revenue in 2012 that could force the library to eat into its fund balance.

In the meantime, the town and library district must decide what to do when the Palisade branch’s lease with the town expires May 31. The library covers the utility bills but otherwise rents the space for free from the town.

Sarmo told trustees while he doesn’t want to “gouge” the district, the town deserves some compensation, noting the district pays rent on several of its other branches.

“You’ve found the money to pay something to Clifton. You’ve found the money to pay something to Orchard Mesa. We’d just ask that something is paid to Palisade,” he said.


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