Surls museum wins the Carbondale library derby |

Surls museum wins the Carbondale library derby

CARBONDALE — A museum featuring the internationally acclaimed sculptures of Carbondale resident James Surls will be taking over the space now occupied by the Gordon Cooper Library, at the corner of Fourth Street and Garfield Avenue, after the town’s trustees voted 6-1 in favor of the Surls museum application on Tuesday night.

Trustee Pam Zentmyer was the sole dissenting vote.

While the board of trustees declined to turn the former library over to another applicant, a combined early child care facility and gathering place named the Family Enrichment Center (FEC), the trustees and others pledged on Tuesday to do all they could to help the FEC find a home.

“They touched my heart,” said Jim Calaway, local philanthropist and primary backer of the Surls museum.

Although Calaway did not go into specifics, he indicated he would try to find a way, perhaps financially, to help the FEC’s group of sponsors realize their ambitions.

In addition, Mayor Stacey Bernot announced to an audience of about 40 people that the third proposed use of the library, the Carbondale Performing Arts Center (CPAC), already has found another location to move into.

She said the proponent of the CPAC, Peter Gilbert, called her recently to say he is negotiating with the Roaring Fork School District for a space in the old Carbondale Middle School building, which now houses the Bridges High School and other programs.

At the Tuesday meeting, before the discussion even got going about choosing a tenant for the former library, several trustees announced possible conflicts of interest over the matter, in keeping with recent discussions about when a trustee ought to recuse him or herself from voting on issues before the town.

It began with Trustee Frosty Merriott, who announced that Calaway had recently become a client of Merriott’s tax accounting business, but added that he did not feel that created a conflict for him in the library issue.

After Merriott’s disclosure, Trustee Pam Zentmyer revealed that one of her children has been attending the preschool operated by one of the Family Enrichment Center proponents, but likewise did not think that created a conflict of interest, and Trustee John Hoffmann disclosed that one of the applicants for the Surls museum is a member of his chicken co-op.

None of these revelations were deemed to create a conflict of interest by any of the other trustees, and the debate moved on.

From the outset, several trustees spoke of the need to try to make a home for both the museum and the FEC, as both offered benefits to the town’s character and its economy.

Hoffmann, noting that each of the two proposals has considerable merit, suggested the town itself begin seeking out possible locations. He listed several potential sites, including Friendship Park, a piece of land owned by his wife, and the south lawn of the Third Street Center.

“I think all of these possibilities are worth exploring,” he told his fellow trustees.

Other trustees indicated agreement with the idea, but they also gave their reasons why one or the other applicant should be picked to occupy the library space, which is to revert to town ownership when the library moves to a new building in August.

“The Surls museum is a better fit [for the library space],” declared Trustee John Foulkrod, adding that the museum has a better chance of making it without further support from the town.

As part of the application, proponents of the Surls museum promised to renovate and expand the library space at private expense, and then turn the revitalized building back over to the town whenever the Surls museum is deemed to have run its course.

Foulkrod’s position was supported by Trustee Merriott and Mayor Bernot, who both maintained that the museum would bring economic benefits to the town that the FEC would not.

Trustee Allyn Harvey at one point suggested the board take a “time out” on consideration of the project, in order to undertake a broader discussion about the need for early childhood education and socialization opportunities such as those offered by preschools, and Trustee Zentmyer pointed out that the FEC stands to create a greater number of jobs than the museum would.

In the end, though, a majority of the trustees opted to choose the museum application for the library building, and to start looking for an appropriate alternative location for the FEC.

Now that the museum has been selected, town staff will begin lease negotiations with Calaway’s team of consultants, and the Calaway team will prepare a land use application to have the property under the library rezoned from residential to commercial.

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