SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Right Cost at the Right Time
By Heidi Ekstrand


August 19, 2010
Thursday AM

This coming Tuesday I will vote "Yes Please" on the library Proposition 1 to allow the city to build a new library anywhere within the city limits. And I will vote "No Thanks" to Proposition 2, which restricts a new library to a very limited section of the downtown core area on city-owned property.

The two downtown choices most often mentioned are to move the museum and renovate the Centennial Building, or build a new library on the Grant Street parking lot. Both can be proven unrealistic, cost-prohibitive and quite certain to delay construction to the point that 50/50 state funding may be in jeopardy.

Grant Street Parking Lot

The Grant Street parking lot (old Main School site) has been considered numerous times in the past and been dismissed as too expensive, primarily because of the need for a parking structure attached on the lower Main Street lot. To quote from the 2004 Library Development Plan: "Individually, the Main School Site and lower parking lot are considered to be somewhat inadequate. Both appear to have some accessibility issues, particularly ease of pedestrian access and availability of bicycle routes.... In other words, as individual sites, they may have difficulty accommodating the building, parking and expansion possibilities." In 2004 and again in 2007, the solution to the Grant Street library location was to combine the library with a necessary parking structure down on Main Street. This was too expensive a proposition and the momentum to build a new library died in its tracks both times. The "A Better Choice" group is now suggesting there's no need for a parking structure and that parking can be accessed via an outside elevator up the cliff from the Main Street parking lot. Imagine adding the congestion of library traffic in that neighborhood and then eliminating parking spaces up on the Grant Street parking lot to make room for the new library! The report to the 2010 Feasibility Committee from MRV Architects regarding the elevator proposal reads as follows: "Certainly, this potential for a future elevator connection from the lower parking level is attractive at a planning level, but should be carefully scrutinized for technical and fiscal realism. It will be an unorthodox and expensive feature, and thus may never be actualized." With each failed attempt on Grant Street, our old library stays downtown in the same cramped building and continues to deteriorate.

Centennial Building

As for renovating the Centennial Building, that involves moving the library to a new temporary location, moving the museum out, remodeling the Centennial Building and then moving the library back in -- a costly process and a lengthy set of "what-ifs" that, once again, makes state 50/50 funding assistance unlikely. And there is no funding plan to re-locate the museum.

State Funding

There are two segments to the funding opportunities available for the library project. 1) The issue of losing the 50/50 state matching funds isn't so much about the location, as it is the timing. Sen. Bert Stedman succeeded in creating an amazing funding structure for library construction throughout the state. Library projects were all identified, evaluated, then ranked by the state library association based on their development progress, and a funding schedule was created. Following this schedule, a total of six libraries (Cordova, Kenai, Seward, Petersburg, Barrow and Sutton) were funded this past legislative session. These communities will get their new libraries. Ketchikan is at the top of the list in the second tier of the funding schedule for this next legislative session, allied with Anchorage, Sitka, Fairbanks and Kodiak. It was with the knowledge that this package of state library funding was going to be available that Ketchikan's Library Feasibility Committee formed this past year to start working to qualify. Since the first block of libraries was funded, it would be hard to imagine the second block not also receiving funding. Beyond this second tier of library projects there is only one community in line for the third year of funding -- Wasilla -- with no other strategic allies to work with for state dollars. The Bear Valley Copper Ridge site, the preferred site of the Feasibility Committee and approved by the City Council, is on track toward completion of 35% design and creation of a project development plan by February, all necessary elements to be eligible for the state 50/50 matching funds this next year. The Grant Street and Centennial Building sites haven't even started down this road. To assume that additional funding tiers will be available in the future, in light of declining oil revenues and competition from other sectors of the state, is to risk losing this money completely. And if we do lose the chance for library funding from this supremely organized form of legislative strategy, I don't want to be the one walking into Sen. Stedman's office later on asking for money from an alternate source.

Private Funding

2) The other funding element that will reduce the local taxpayer share of a new library building is access to private funds. This is where the Foraker Group comes into play, by working with communities to make sure community projects will be affordable, sustainable and appropriate. I think of them as the cautious and careful "gatekeepers" for funders such as the Rasmuson Foundation. A stamp of approval from the Foraker Group provides the credibility when applying for funds from many other outside sources, thus reducing the local taxpayer share. The Bear Valley Copper Ridge site has this approval from the Foraker Group -- Grant Street and Centennial Building do not. So by all means do the math and add it up: Risk losing $6 million in 50/50 state funding by yet more delays? Risk losing potentially another $2 million in private funding and local capital campaign donations? Pay the total $12 million with local dollars rather than possibly only $4 million? The sum is "Yes Please Prop 1" to keep an affordable new library on track to reality. And "No Thanks to Prop 2" to avoid yet more delays that will again kill this project because of the cost and confusion.

Heidi Ekstrand
Ketchikan, AK


Received August 17, 2010 - Published August 19, 2010


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