Looking toward a new library

City searches for bigger space for valley library

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Richard Cavanaugh, 13, and his brother Chad Guerrero, 12, visit the Mendenhall Valley library about three times a week. They live a couple of blocks away and stopped by Monday afternoon with little brother James, 5, in tow to check out Super Nintendo codes on the Internet.

The trio accounts for some of the tens of thousands of visitors the library sees each year. But with more than half of Juneau's population living in the Mendenhall Valley, the library isn't meeting needs, according to a study completed this summer.

"We're concerned that now that we have done an updated needs study that we're shortchanging the valley population with that facility. People love the convenience of being in the mall ... but it really isn't big enough to serve more than half the population of Juneau," Library Director Carol McCabe said.

Based on direction from the Juneau Assembly's Lands Committee, the city is negotiating with Faith Lutheran Church and the Vintage Business Park about acquiring property for a new library. While a new building might be 10 years away, the library wants to start planning now, McCabe said.

"It takes quite awhile to get the money in line and the support in line," she said. "If you don't start, it won't happen."

Three acres for a new valley library originally was part of the proposed Dimond Park complex near Riverside Drive, but was taken out of plans because of space limitations. The city

doesn't own other suitable land in the valley that could be used for a library, said City Lands Manager Steve Gilbertson.

Based on initial estimates, property could cost between $300,000 and $1.5 million, he said. The city is looking at 1.75 acres as a minimum size and Gilbertson hopes to bring some options to Assembly members next month. The city owns the downtown and Douglas library sites, he said.

The current valley location doesn't have a consistent power supply or adequate space for staff and computers, and isn't always visible to newcomers and occasional users, the study said. The public meeting room and children's area are often jam-packed. Small children have to travel down the hall to use the bathroom, electronic services librarian Barbara Berg said.

"Whenever there's intense kid activity, it impinges on people who are trying to read quietly or study," she said.

The valley library has 33,000 items in its print, audio and video collection. According to the study, it should have twice that for the population it serves.

"For any book we add we have to get rid of something because there's no shelf space. If we add shelf space, we lose seating space," Berg said. "It's not a space that was designed to do what it is doing."

The library now pays $13,339 a month to lease 7,160 square feet in the Mendenhall Center. To adequately serve the valley population today, the study estimates the library needs 17,000 square feet. In 20 years, 23,692 square feet of space will be needed, the study said.

Even if the library was to double its space inside the mall, it still wouldn't solve everything, McCabe said.

"At some point it is cheaper to build and have a capital investment," she said. "We've been struggling so long with the valley that a lot of people don't have a vision of what they could have out there."

Short-term, the library's lease at the mall expires next year and Gilbertson said the city is talking with the Mendenhall Center's owners.

"We're certainly discussing improvements at the Mendenhall Mall. They'd like to keep us there," he said.

Assembly member and Lands Committee Chairman Marc Wheeler said the city would need to work with the state Department of Transportation on access if the Faith Lutheran site, near Egan Drive, is chosen.

"I think it's really important that we do find a site for a new library and eventually build. The valley is a population center but there's no place for people to gather or civic space," he said.

Several people using the Mendenhall library Monday said they would visit no matter where the library is. Corinne Precourt, who lives at 20 Mile Glacier Highway but works downtown, said she often stops by the valley library on the way home.

"I really doesn't make that much difference. I live far out anyway," she said.

Kathyrn Lizik, returning books with help from her 2-year-old daughter, said she wouldn't have trouble with a move.

"I'm a supporter of the library, anything to make them more available to people. We're big behind books," she said.

But Back Loop Road resident Fred Coleman said he likes the current location. Lots of school children use the Mendenhall library, he said.

"I think it's better to keep it in the mall because the malls are hurting," he said. "It's more centrally located and you won't save that much money by moving."

West Juneau resident JoEllen Hanrahan uses the downtown and valley libraries. She was at a city Lands Committee meeting where Assembly members discussed property acquisition.

"I like having the library in the mall. It's a central place for people to come and eat and shop. I'll still go, but I'd be less likely to stop," she said. "The only problem is that I'd like to see them wall off the kids' section."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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