City shouldn't shelve library expansion

Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2005

In naming the hallmarks of a good community, a public library is high on the list.

In 1976 half of the library as we know it today was built on Main Street Loop. Ten years later the other half was built. It was constructed with knock-out walls on the side facing Kenai City Hall, with the plan being to expand the building in the future.

Fast forward to 2005. The number of registered library users has risen, the advent of the Internet has created an increased need for public computer and Web access and children's storytime has become a family staple; yet the Kenai Community Library still is the same size it was in 1986.

Why? Money. Specifically, the lack of it.

Emily DeForest, retired library director, said library proponents have been planning in earnest to expand since about 1996. But in budget after budget, the city hasn't come up with the money needed to make it happen.

The current proposal would add 16,000 square feet onto the 10,000-square-foot existing building, DeForest said. That space would create a meeting room for storytimes and various other programs and allow the expansion of the preschool to third-grade and early teen sections, which are in need of study space and computers.

Thanks to fund-raising by the Friends of the Library group (the annual raffle is coming up next month, by the way) and efforts of the Kenai Library Commission to find grant funding, the dream of expansion finally seems within reach.

The planned expansion carries a price tag of $2 million. The commission has committed itself to finding grants for all but $500,000, which it wants the city to pitch in. Friends of the Library has promised $50,000 to pay for furniture in the addition — study tables, computers, book shelves and the like.

Now it's up to the city council to decide whether it will pay its share.

No one's saying $500,000 isn't a lot of money, especially for a city that's seen some tough financial times recently.

But if the funds can be spared, it would be money well spent. Not only would an already well-used library become better able to meet the needs of its community, but all the Friends volunteers, library commissioners and countless members of the public who've bought raffle tickets over the years would be rewarded for their efforts to better their community.

With that in mind, we hope the only thing being shelved at the library this year is books, not expansion plans.

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