Soldotna library expansion on track

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011

With Kenai's library expansion project already well under way, Soldotna continues to push forward with efforts to increase its own special space for bookworms.

Even though the venture remains in the preliminary stages, the goals are ambitious: more space for books and collections, additional public and private meeting areas, a bigger parking area, and -- the best part -- a children's area with acoustical separation, i.e. the screaming kids will be mercifully sequestered from the general library-going population.

These upgrades are necessary, Mayor Peter Micciche said, as Soldotna has rapidly outgrown the existing library.

"There's people who say that libraries are becoming sort of obsolete," Micciche said, "but if anyone spends any time in the Soldotna library after school or on a weekend afternoon, oftentimes you have to turn sideways to get through the aisles."

Last fall, the residents of Soldotna voted with an overwhelming 73 percent in favor of securing $2.5 million in bonds for the proposed expansion, and these funds will be appropriated and formally added to the budget at next week's city council meeting. But with an estimated total cost of more than $6 million, there's still plenty of money to gather before the project can come to fruition.

In addition to the bonds, the other substantial chunk of funding is anticipated to come from the state through a pending grant request for $3.2 million. And assuming that is awarded, a small hole still exists between funds acquired and funds necessary.

"The city's going to be seeking other grants and other funding sources to fill that minor gap," said Kyle Kornelis, Soldotna's city engineer. These other sources include the Friends of the Library capital campaigns and a request to the Rasmuson Foundation, to be submitted in March of this year.

"So the $2.5 million (from the bonds) will be more than enough for the design portion of the project," Kornelis said, "but we're still lacking multiple millions of dollars for the construction portion."

The design phase, which is estimated to cost $500,000, is set to begin this spring, and Kornelis is currently working on a request for proposals that will be distributed throughout the community. The request for proposals is essentially the job application process for the city to hire an architect, wherein the city (the employer) outlines their needs and criteria for the library expansion, and various architecture firms (the potential employees) respond with their experience, past projects completed, and how much it will cost for them to perform the requested work.

Again, with construction costs hovering around an expected $5.9 million and other miscellaneous expenses adding to the financial burden, grant money is a critical component to this major expansion endeavor. But factors out of the city's control aren't necessarily boding well for the project.

"What we're hearing is that due to the economic downturn that they're not anticipating being as generous with their grants," Kornelis said of the state and the Rasmuson Foundation.

Still, Kornelis is confident that the city could circumvent this possible obstacle if necessary, and Micciche agreed, saying "that even if we don't get the complete amount of dollars from the state or Rasmuson, we have support in the community to finish the expansion."

Though ground hasn't been broken and a concrete design has yet to be outlined, Kornelis thinks that, if everything goes according to plan, the whole undertaking could be done as early as 2012.

"If we get state funding this spring, begin the design work in the fall of 2011, and have construction begin ASAP in 2012," Kornelis speculated, "I would expect that completion would be at the end of 2012."

"It's an aggressive schedule, but I think it's doable."

And what of all this talk that Soldotna and Kenai have been effectively engaging in various developmental rivalries over the years and that this is just another such struggle to keep up with one another?

"We're not in competition with Kenai," assured Micciche. "We weren't influenced or affected by Kenai, but we're very proud of their expansion. It certainly gets us excited about having that quality and that kind of space available in our community."

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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