City decides to buy valley land for library

Voters would have to decide whether to start construction on bigger city library

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

The Juneau Assembly on Monday voted to purchase land in the Mendenhall Valley for a new library or other public purpose, although the issue could come back for reconsideration.

By a 6-3 vote, the Assembly voted to purchase 2.3 acres of property near the intersection of Egan Drive and Riverside Drive from Faith Lutheran Church and a nearby, .36-acre parcel owned by Don and Robert Peterson for a total cost of $430,000. The money would come from the city's land fund.

Assembly members John MacKinnon, Dale Anderson and Don Etheridge voted against the purchase.

MacKinnon gave notice of reconsideration at the end of the meeting, so the issue could come back at the Assembly's next regular meeting. A motion to reconsider the vote immediately failed.

Depending on the results of today's election, MacKinnon said the vote could go his way in two weeks. He did not run for re-election this fall because of term limits.

"I just think it's a poor decision to buy a piece of land speculatively," he said. "Since 1990, the city has purchased over $11 million worth of property and only sold $6 million worth of property. It gets a little frustrating."

A new valley library was included in plans for the Dimond Park complex on Riverside Drive, but was taken out in 1999 because of site constraints, according to library supporters. Friends of the Library President Bridget Smith said the group was delighted the Assembly approved the land purchase.

"We need a new library and this is a wonderful site. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us," she said.

The city leases 7,160 square feet in the Mendenhall Center, previously called the Mendenhall Mall, for the valley library at $13,229 a month. Funding is not available to construct a new building, according to Library Director Carol McCabe, and a decision to build would be made by voters in a future election. The city will discuss space options with the mall's owners Wednesday, she said.

"We've been there for 18 years and we'll be there for many more," she said.

McCabe said the library is looking for a better space for children, more room for books, increased visibility, improved ventilation and more seating.

Valley resident Chuck Seslar asked the Assembly to look at all of the costs that will go into the land purchase.

"The problem I have is do we really need additional space? If we do, I know it is available. Look at the Mendenhall Mall," he said.

The Faith Lutheran Church congregation has approved the sale. Karl Mielke, president of the congregation, said the church borrowed money for a school expansion and its current revenues are inadequate to cover mortgage payments. Selling the land would help the church repay the loan and make other repairs, he said.

Architect Paul Voelkers said the site will allow for an extension of Riverside Drive and traffic improvements. The city will need to spend an estimated $420,000 for site preparation, a figure that doesn't include utility improvements, he said.

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