Funds for Soldotna library, road improvements on the way

After much letter-writing and nail-biting, Soldotna received more than $6 million from the State of Alaska to go toward three of its most pressing development projects: the Joyce K. Carver Library expansion, the Birch Street traffic light installation, and the Redoubt Avenue improvements.

An ordinance formally appropriating the funds was introduced during Wednesday night's city council meeting, and a public hearing and vote on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 24.

The library had the most to lose had it not received the $3.4 million in grant money, which accounts for about half of what the entire project is expected to cost. Another $2.5 million comes from bonds Soldotna voters approved during elections last fall.

"We're excited to have the funding we need to get started and we don't see any major obstacles at this point," City Engineer Kyle Kornelis said. "We do hope to get underway very soon."

The $5.9 million in grant and bond money is still slightly lacking, so the city is seeking $500,000 from the Rasmuson Foundation as well. Kornelis said he spoke with a representative from the organization Wednesday and discussed the recommended timing for submitting a letter of inquiry and subsequent grant application.

Friends of the Soldotna Public Library has also been actively campaigning to raise money for the project, and, according to librarian Terri Burdick, the group has already raked in more than $15,000 and plans to present a check to the city council sometime soon.

"It's still kind of grass roots and still starting," Burdick said of the association. "What needs to be done is they need to recruit more members and just make it an ongoing campaign."

Last month the group put on several small fundraisers which took in more than $2,000: $802 from the library talent showcase and silent auction, $240 from the Progress Days snacks booth, and more than $1,000 from the used book sale.

"The money for the project doesn't include furnishings and bookshelves," Burdick pointed out. "So we have to look at how to purchase those after the building is completed."

The organization also recently received a $10,000 grant from Central Peninsula Hospital. 

Kornelis said there will definitely be avenues for groups and individuals like the Friends of the Library to put their two cents into how the library is designed.

"We'll have a lot of public input and outreach," Kornelis said. "We'll have a construction advisory committee that helps guide us through the design process to ensure that we get an end product that will work for our particular needs."

Kornelis said he has yet to put out a request for proposals for the design phase of the project, but hopes to do so within the month. He still intends for construction to begin in the spring of 2012 and, barring any unforeseen complications, to finish by the end of that year's construction season.

"We're still working toward that schedule," Kornelis said. "We're still hoping to meet that timeline with a 2013 opening."

In addition to the $3.4 million for the library, the state's Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development also allocated a hair over $2 million to the Redoubt Avenue improvements and $570,000 to the installation of a Birch Street traffic light. 

The Redoubt improvements include reconditioning, repaving, and the rectification of the drainage and sinkhole problems. 

"It will make transportation to that section of town much easier and it will alleviate a lot of maintenance headaches," Kornelis said.

The Birch Street traffic signal still has an unknown start date, as the city is in ongoing negotiations with the Department of Transportation concerning the design and construction timelines.


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