Kenai council gets a read on library expansion plans

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

Not too long ago, the talk was that the Internet was going to sound the death knell for public libraries.

“That simply is not happening,” said Kenai Community Library Director Mary Jo Joiner on Thursday, the day after Joiner attended an architect’s presentation to the Kenai City Council on options for expanding the facility she runs.

According to Peter Klauder, of Kenai-based Klauder and Company Architects Inc., the existing library is less than half the size it should be today and another one-third smaller than it will need to be in 20 years.

With 4,166 square feet of space for book stacks, the existing library has a total of 9,496 square feet, according to Klauder.

It should have 8,490 square feet just for book stacks, and the overall size of the library should be 20,120 square feet this year.

By 2026, the facility will need 10,085 square feet of space for book stacks and 27,178 square feet overall.

Built in 1976, the Kenai library was last expanded 20 years ago when it was doubled to its current size.

Klauder presented three expansion options involving the existing library building, one involving use of the state office building next door, and he offered selecting a new site as another alternative.

The first option, which Klauder said would be the least expensive, calls for building a one-story, 10,000 square-foot expansion adjacent to the existing library between city hall and the existing library.

The expansion would have an entrance on the south side — the same as city hall — and would include enlarging the vehicle parking area in front of city hall and across the full length of the new library building.

Limited parking is seen as one problem facing the existing library, according to the architect.

The option also would allow for a second story to be added to enable the library to meet 2026 demand. At that time, a bridge would be built to link the library with city hall.

The second option would add an 11,238 square-foot second story to the existing library. A new entry would be built on the south side of the library in this option as well, Klauder said.

Option 2 includes a proposed single-story, 7,000 square-foot addition being built by 2026.

A third option calls for building a raised addition in front of the existing library, which would include parking beneath the addition.

Somewhat difficult to envision, Option 3 calls for a raised building over the existing library parking lot. The addition would connect with the existing building by way of stairs and an elevator where the current entrance is.

Klauder said, whichever option the city council elects, the project would only be able to obtain grant funding if the option includes plans for the projected 2026 needs.

The Kenai architect told the council he always views the state office building — the old courthouse — as a building that “looks like a library.”

With that in mind, his firm has considered asking the state to relocate, to vacate a portion of the building or to lease a part of the basement for library storage.

Although he said he did not want to be held to cost estimates, Klauder said Option 1 could be built at between $300 and $350 per square-foot; Option 2 would be between $350 and $400; and Option 3 would cost between $325 and $375 a foot.

Council member Joe Moore asked what the costs would have been 10 years ago when the city first started talking about expanding the library.

“Probably about half that,” Klauder said.

Joiner does not have a preference of one option over another.

“If we can just get the space we need, we can work with any of the options,” she said. “We really do need more people space.

The existing library lacks an area for teenagers, and the children’s area is inadequate, she said.

When children’s programs, such as the popular Family Story Time, are conducted, library staff has to move furniture in the middle of the library’s central open space to make room for the crowd.

“We have had as many as 60 people, and we’ve had to split the program into two sessions to accommodate them,” Joiner said.

The former library director for West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, Joiner said as soon as she walked into the Kenai facility, she knew it did not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The space between furnishings needs to be at least 36 inches and 42 inches around corners, she said.

“A person in a wheelchair would have difficulty negotiating in the entire library,” she said.

Joiner also said space is needed for more computers for the public’s use. Currently the library has five computers that library card holders may use and two express computers for anyone’s limited use.

She said there is often a list of people waiting to use a computer.

“A perception is that everyone has a computer at home, but that is not true,” Joiner said.

She said a community library serves as an equalizer, allowing the “have nots” to come in and have access to the community’s resources.

People have a perception of libraries still being about books, which also helps explain the library’s growing number of visitors.

The fact that the cost of books has gone up 224 percent since 1984, according to the American Library Association, also has contributed.

“Circulation figures and attendance figures continue to rise all over the country,” Joiner said.

The council scheduled a work session on the ideas with the architect and the Kenai Library Commission during May.

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