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Bonding with books: Library expansion funding question brought to voters

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

Upcoming municipal elections will bring more than new faces to the Soldotna City Council. During the Oct. 5 elections, residents will decide whether the city will issue up to $2.5 million in bonds to fund the Soldotna Public Library expansion project.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Jeffrey Simons reads a copy of "Point Blank" during his weekly visit to Soldotna's library as other patrons work on computers behind him. "I come more often if possible," Simons said. Soldotna voters will decide a library bond issue in the next election.

Librarian Terri Burdick said that the library needs additional space for programming and community events. The expansion will include a conference room, computer stations and separate areas for age groups such as children and teenagers. Currently the library has to move seating for author tours, video presentations and other programs.

"It's small in terms of today," said council member Edward Sleater. "It. Is. Small."

Sleater, Director of the Friends of the Joyce Carver Memorial Library organization, introduced the ordinance that placed the bond issue on the ballot. He said that the current children's area was created for transient use. Kids would walk through, pick a book and return home. Now the library holds reading circles and programs there.

"A library is not just for checking out books," he said. "It's the soul of the community."

The library was built in 1972. A 1990 expansion doubled its size, according to Burdick. Sleater projected that the current expansion plan will serve the library's needs for the next 15 to 20 years.

City Manager Larry Semmens said that the bonds are part of an estimated $5.9 million budget. If the bond proposition passes, it will show community support for the project, which will help loosen purse strings for grants and other types of funding. Semmens said that the city will pursue funding from the Rasmuson Foundation, a private foundation that funds non-profit organizations in Alaska, and the State Department of Commerce and Community Development. The Kenai and Homer library expansion projects were funded in a similar way. The city has already set aside $325,000 for library expansion, as well.

Alaska Municipal Bond Bank will advise the local government on which bonds to issue, if the proposition passes. The city manager plans to pursue Build America or Rural Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds that are subsidized by the stimulus package, as well as tax exempt bonds. The city must apply for these bonds by December.

The city has already acquired land for the expansion. Semmens said that the land is adjacent to the Central Peninsula Hospital. At the time, there was concern that the hospital might buy the property.

Two years ago, a space usage analysis found that the current library requires 15,825 square feet, almost double the existing space. Ann Myren, the consultant who produced the study, said that there are no standards for Alaska libraries, and used Wisconsin as a model because both states have many rural libraries.

A library door count estimates that an average of 7,816 people used the library per month last fiscal year, almost twice the city's population. About 8,220 materials circulate through the library. Burdick said that the numbers are slightly elevated because of the tourism surge during the summer, but seasonal reading programs add to that number as well.

Despite the active use, Soldotna resident opinion of the bond issue is mixed.

Retiree Stan Sorenson would vote in favor of the proposition, but doesn't use the library himself.

"I'm sure other people do though," the 66-year-old said.

Mike Foust, 42, disagreed with the proposition because the city taxes him for enough as it is, in his mind.

"They're tapping us for everything," the oilfield operator said.

Non-resident Steve Smith said that he's curious how cost effective the project will be, but supports the proposition. A history fan, Smith uses the library twice a year to find out-of-print or rare books. He also believes that the library provides educational opportunities and Internet access for the surrounding community.

"Not everyone is hooked up to the net," the Gas Well Road resident said.

Burdick said that the library will begin a door-to-door campaign to increase support for the measure this weekend. If the proposition fails, the library isn't sure how it will secure funding otherwise just yet.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.



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