The landscape along the side of the Sterling Highway has changed somewhat at Mile 138, and Ninilchik residents can breathe a little easier because of it.
Construction is nearly complete on a new, larger community library that, when it opens this fall, will give patrons some room they and the library staff don't have in the current building.
"We're definitely crowded," said library director Jackie Bear. "It's definitely cluttered."
The 17-year-old building the library currently occupies is about 28-feet by 52-feet, Bear said. The new building has "almost three times as much space," covering nearly 3,200 square feet.
"We definitely picked up a lot more room for books and for our patrons," Bear said. "We are planning to enlarge our children's area, and we're finally able to make the library handicap accessible."
The current building, now somewhat hidden behind the new digs, is bursting at the seams with library material. Books and videos are squeezed into every nook and corner available with little room for people to take a seat. There are several stacks of books throughout the building, evidence that the library has outgrown itself and is in need of a new home.
The new building, which had carpet installed last week, will be occupied over the course of August and September and is tentatively scheduled to have its grand opening Oct. 5, to coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the incorporation of the Ninilchik Library in 1952.
"That's the plan," Bear said.
That plan will be the last phase of a project nearly four years in the making. Bear said the Ninilchik community began raising funds for the new building in the fall of 1998 and came up with $80,000 by last summer, with a large part of the money needed for construction coming from private and corporate donations. This included a $50,000 donation from Ninilchik resident Bertha Glud in the name of her late husband, Robert.
"We had really anticipated the fund-raising taking a lot longer," Bear said. "That donation really enabled us to make some firm plans and get things moving a lot quicker."
The library followed this by applying for, and receiving, a matching state grant to subsidize the $171,000 price tag on the building. The project was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, under a provision of the Library Services and Construction Act as administered by the Alaska State Library.
A second grant from this same source provided two patron computers and one staff computer.
Bear hopes that by increasing the library's size and its capacity to carry more books for patrons, the library will, in turn, be able to increase its services and offer more to the community.
"Right now I'd say we have an average circulation of about 15,000 items that we loan out every year," Bear said. "That is quite a bit for a small community already, and we're hoping to increase that."
But she said community members, as well as some Ninilchik visitors, are anxious to get into the bigger, better library.
"It's been so positive," she said. "They're really looking forward to the opening. And not just the community. We have lot of summer visitors who have contributed to it, as well."
Bear said she's also excited about the prospect of elbow room, but the change still will require some adjustment.
"It'll be nice to be able to spread out," she said. "We're just hoping we don't get lost in this great big building."
Morris News-Service Alaska contributed to this story.
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