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Gathering roughly split between two proposals for old Carbondale library

John Colson
Post Independent Staff

CARBONDALE — A gathering of 70 people or more left no doubt in the minds of the town’s trustees here — there are actually only two proposed uses for the old Gordon Cooper Library that a majority of residents are supporting, and those are a “Family Enrichment Center” (FEC) that would provide infant and toddler care in addition to other community-based activities for adults and kids alike, and a museum devoted to the work of famed artist James Surls.

A third option, to turn the old museum into a performing arts center, has not garnered nearly the support drawn by the other two.

At a hearing Tuesday, speakers from the public were about evenly split between support for the Surls museum and for the FEC, with only marginal support for the performing arts center.

The town is trying to figure out what to do with the old library building, at the corner of Fourth and Garfield, which is being vacated some time this summer when the Garfield County Public Library District moves to a new building at the corner of Third and Sopris. A formal request for proposals earlier this year yielded the three concepts being considered.

Statements to the town about the choice favored the FEC at a rate of more than 12 to 1, although many of the FEC supporters signed petitions rather than sent individual letters.

The first public speaker at Tuesday’s meeting, Sopris Sun photographer and writer Jane Bachrach, stressed that she was not speaking for the paper, and said she liked both the museum and the FEC.

But, she added, the Surls museum would be “a bigger benefit to our community as a whole as far as economic growth goes.”

The FEC, she said, has “several options” in terms of possible space for their facility, but the museum “can’t go anywhere” other than the library space.

Bachrach’s offering was followed immediately by several speakers in favor of the FEC, including longtime local activist and mother Gwen Garcelon, who said the center “will reflect deeply and culturally held values of this town” and that “there is no more appropriate place for this center than right in the middle of town.”

More than 20 of those in the meeting room spoke to the trustees, in the hopes of convincing the board to pick one or the other of the two more popular proposals.

Some of those speaking felt that a museum dedicated to Surls’ sculpture would “put Carbondale on the map” as a center of high art, although Surls’ work would not be sold from the museum itself. Instead, the museum’s proponents have promised to build a small inner gallery that would offer artworks by local artists and others for sale.

Some backers of the Surls museum suggested the FEC could easily find a home elsewhere, perhaps in the Third Street Center at the south end of town. But others argued that there is not enough room available at the Third Street Center and that there is not adequate security and isolation for a program of care for infants and toddlers.

One point of contention was the amount of rent proposed by the primary two factions, $3,000 per month by the FEC versus $1 per year from the museum.

Local businessman Gavin Brooke conceded that the monthly rental may seem more attractive to the town’s cash-hungry administration but added that local philanthropist Jim Calaway and others plan to essentially double the square footage of the library building with an $800,000 expansion project.

Brooke said this would be the equivalent of paying $40,000 a year for the initial 20-year life of the proposed museum contract, and that it also would lessen the need for publicly funded maintenance of the building in the coming years. If the museum for some reason is not a success, Brooke and others have said, the town would then get the expanded building, with its increased value, essentially for free.

Some of those speaking at the meeting were not happy about either proposal.

Wayne Dvorak, who said he was speaking on behalf of the working population that pays the taxes and is still reeling from the effects of the ongoing recession, questioned why there is a rush to find a use for a building “that we paid for,” and suggested the town simply sell the property and use the proceeds for civic improvements.

After well over an hour of comments, the trustees decided to take the matter up again at the next regular meeting, on May 28.

In other action the trustees:

• Agreed to accept a $300,000 grant from the Federal Mineral Lease District fund for the Garfield County region.

• Discussed plans for improving pedestrian and bicyclist access from Carbondale to the trail system on Red Hill, located to the north of the intersection of State highways 133 and 82. Current plans include the possibility of both an “at-grade” crossing and an underpass beneath Highway 82, with connections to the Gateway Park area (to the east of the intersection) and to a footbridge over the Roaring Fork River to link the underpass/bridge with a trail system leading into town.

• Approved special event liquor licenses for the KDNK Mt. Sopris Music Fest on June 28-29, and for the KDNK Blues and BBQ on Aug. 17. Both events are to be held at the Fourth Street Plaza area in downtown Carbondale.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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