Valley library taking shape, readying to seek state funding

Cost could be $13-15M

The preliminary plans for a new Mendenhall Valley library were presented Wednesday evening, showing three concepts with a price range of $13 million to $15 million.


MRV Architects and Library Director Barbara Berg showed the initial plans as they will be seeking approval from the city’s Public Works Department and its Assembly to submit a grant application to the state. The project could receive 50 percent of its funds from the state. The city’s 50 percent of the project cost could include land value and private donations. Berg said the city’s financial contribution would have to be 20 percent, and that would come via temporary 1 percent sales tax funds, if approved by voters.

Berg said Friends of the Library has been planning for this for years and has raised approximately $1 million. The endowment fund could contribute toward construction or equipment. The city land, with preliminary valuations also would count toward $1 million.

A new Valley library has been in the city’s plans since 1983, when it was moved into the Mendenhall Mall.

Berg said that under the library construction grants, 10 have been funded so far in its first two years.

Those 10 are in Cordova, Kenai, Seward, Petersburg, Barrow, Sutton, Soldotna, Ketchikan, Skagway and Kodiak, with matching funds received between $350,000 and $6.9 million. Funds have been used for expansions and new facilities.

Four more projects are further along in working on plans for new facilities, including ones in Juneau, the Fairbanks/North Pole area, Sitka and Talkeetna. Talkeetna has yet to draft a project estimate. Of the cities that have, Juneau’s is the highest dollar request at approximately $7.5 million.

Six other cities have expansions or new facility construction plans in early stages. In addition, Juneau also has preliminary plans for improving the downtown library.

Berg said they were anticipating creating a total design package and submitting the grant in January, but the state moved up the deadline and now they’re a little more cramped on planning. The deadline for application submission is now Nov. 4.

The proposed valley library, while it is still taking shape, is currently planned for 20,600 square feet of space — slightly more than the downtown library. One reason the Valley library is planned to be larger is because it is the most used library in the city.

The three plans all show the proposed library in Dimond Park — next to Riverbend Elementary School where the greenhouses are. The gravel pit area would likely only be landscaped as soils are poor and plans currently show 35 parking spaces to comply with city code. Several people suggested asking the city to waive the requirement and either eliminate or greatly reduce planned parking because of the amounts of space at Riverbend, Dimond Park Aquatic Center and Thunder Mountain High School.

One man, who said he works for the Parks and Recreation Department, agreed they should reduce parking and create more green park space. He said the idea in Draft 2 to create an outdoor plaza is great, and suggested a small greenhouse somewhere on site for historic and programming purposes. He also suggested a covered bicycle area, since the city “grossly underestimated” the number of spaces desired at the aquatic center. Jonas Lamb, outreach librarian, said they have been looking into covered stroller/bicycle areas.

Others also emphasized they wanted the facility to play up the great view of Mendenhall Glacier. One woman wanted a two-story library, but Berg said the costs for a two-story library would increase significantly. Currently the library has two staff members on a shift. If they had two stories they’d have to have two per floor. The current layout maintains staffing costs.

Designs also take into consideration more and more of library services are going digital. One man was concerned there wasn’t enough stationary computer spaces. Berg said many come in with wireless devices, so they’re planning for seating for that population, while still providing stationary computers for those who don’t. Another felt the library should be bigger. Berg said because of digitization, things that used to take up a lot of space like reference sections are going digital. She said that for a public library, the patrons needs are getting the latest reads and what they want quickly. She said if it were an academic library the situation would be different.

“The library isn’t just about reading,” one woman said after looking at the plans. “It’s about community. An outside entrance meeting room, would be excellent. To me, a library is more than just about books and that’s the direction you’re going into.”

Another suggestion included a rooftop garden of some sort.

MRV Architects said the city is requiring base-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the building, so a green roof would contribute points necessary to get that certification. Ground source heating is also being looked at for this project.

All plans include separated spacing for different user groups — a sound buffered area for young children, a place for teens, and a quiet place for adults. There also is space planned for meetings and could also be used for bringing in authors or other presentations.

“Interested in getting a facility that will allow us to serve youth better,” Berg said. “We have very little ability to serve teens in our current location. We don’t have hours that are conducive to programming. We have to close when the mall closes at 8 o’clock.”
That doesn’t mean library hours would expand on a day-to-day basis, because the city wants the library to maintain its current staffing level, but it would allow for special programming later in the evenings.

All draft versions of the new library, MRV architects Paul Voelkers and Corey Wall said, were created comparing size ratios of population to sizes of libraries around the state, along with usage desires of the library staff. Voelkers said their drafts are modest, considering more than half the library usage in the city is out of the Mendenhall library.

Potential library users include approximately 17,000 for the valley, 10,000 for downtown and 5,000 in Douglas. Berg said in the summertime, there is a noticeable difference of those who use the downtown library switching to another because of tourism.

Plans show administration space increasing significantly, but the reason for that is currently almost all of the administrative space is in the downtown library. Berg said they intend to move the valley-related administrators on site. She said downtown doesn’t have the kid and teen population the valley does, so they also need to bring staff where the people are.

The library will be taking the project to the Public Works and Facilities Committee meeting at noon Monday in City Hall’s Assembly Chambers. It will then bring the proposal to ask to submit the application for state funds to the Assembly on Oct. 17.

The architects do plan on hosting another public informational meeting, but a date has not been set.

To follow the project and for more information see

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at


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