ASPEN – The Pitkin County Library has filed an application with the city of Aspen to amend approvals granted in 2012 by the city to expand the library building.

The library hopes to begin construction on the $5.5 million project on Sept. 1, after the city finishes moving underground utilities and rebuilding the alleyway on the uphill side of the library.

The city’s anticipated project to rebuild Galena Plaza is expected to occur after the library’s expansion, while some of the work to fix a leaking roof in the parking garage underneath will take place while the library is expanding, library officials said.

The project is the latest iteration of an expansion plan for the library, which has been working on the concept for six years. In 2012, the city approved an expansion plan but county voters then rejected a bond to pay for it in the November election.

Since then, the library’s plan has been significantly scaled back and re-worked by architects at Snowden and Hopkins, a Vail firm that has extensive experience designing libraries, including ones in Vail, Eagle and Avon.

The county library now intends to pay for the project with money it has saved for the expansion and with about $1.5 million in private donations it is still seeking.

The expansion primarily pushes out the east side of the building facing Galena Plaza. The additional 6,000 square feet of space will allow for a new entrance, a community meeting room and a children’s center that both open up to outdoor spaces on the plaza, and an outdoor second-floor deck over the children’s center.

“To meld with, yet stand as a counterpoint to the existing brick building, the addition façade will be clad in a metal that speaks to the historic mixing of materials in the mines,” the library’s application to the city states.

The expansion’s roof line is much lower than the library’s previous design, and the new square footage stays within an easement held by the library. However, a portion of the new expansion’s structural support would extend onto city property below the plaza, and the city and county in February agreed on a new easement.

The library has crafted the expansion in response to changing demands on the public institution.

“The current library is based on the more traditional concept of a library as a collection-centric holdings facility,” the library’s application states, “whereas the design for the remodel and addition of the Pitkin County Library pushes the institution toward the more modern concept of a library as a service-oriented education center.”

The lower entrance to the library on Mill Street will be eliminated and a vegetated area called a “bio-swale” will be built next to the library to help manage water run-off down the steep grade. Inside, a new reading lounge will look over the planted area toward Mill Street.

The children’s collection and the media and music collection will both be moved from the lower floor up to the main floor, with the children’s area expanded from 3,100 square feet to 4,538 square feet.

“The design plans prioritize the children’s room by providing it with a bigger space and putting it in a central, desirable location,” the library says in its application. “With big windows, access to a sunken area in Galena Plaza specifically designed for children, and additional space for children’s programming, the new children’s room will provide an excellent area to support all the functions of a modern and active children’s library.”

The non-fiction collection will be moved to the lower floor and reduced in size from 6,200 square feet to 3,390 square feet, and a new 1,322-square-foot teen area will also be on the lower floor.

The fiction collection will remain on the third floor, but will be reduced in size from 2,122 square feet to 1,775 square feet, and about a third of the open mezzanine, on the south side of the building, will be filled in and turned into usable space.

A new 1,627-square-foot deck from the mezzanine level will be built on the east side of the building overlooking Galena Plaza and the small grassy amphitheater to be built outside of the new children’s center on the main level.

Four new meeting rooms will be created, including a community room that can be locked off from the main library and used after hours. Overall, the meeting space will be increased from 375 square feet to 1,215 square feet.

“In response to consistent community requests for study rooms and after-hours meeting spaces, the proposed renovation features four meeting/collaboration rooms of different sizes, a new and large area dedicated to quiet study, and a large after-hours community and event space with access from Galena Plaza,” the library’s application states.

Kathy Chandler, the head librarian, presented the plans to the Pitkin County commissioners in a work session Tuesday along with architect Pam Hopkins. Elected officials were supportive of the project.

After the meeting, Chandler said the library is not expected to close during the 15 months of phased construction, but there will be ongoing adjustments.

She felt that library patrons would be understanding and flexible, just as they were when the library completed the mezzanine level years ago.

The library is holding an open house on Thursday, April 24 at noon and 5 p.m. for people to come see the new plans.

Its application to the city is available on the library’s website in the “About the library” section.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published the story on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...