Local News

Library moves ahead with expansion plans

Library Director Sarah Bell works in her office at Kettleson Memorial Library on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Her office has become defacto storage for a lot of the library’s equipment. (Photo by Ed Ronco/KCAW)

Kettleson Memorial Library will start looking for architects to help it expand. The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday unanimously supported a plan that would see the library expand by 60 percent.

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The presentation the Assembly saw Tuesday night included a pretty detailed floor plan. The circulation desk moves to the left of the door. The bathrooms come to the front of the building. The children’s room expands, there’s a new multipurpose room for meetings or general use during the day, and there’s a separate area for teens. And the building itself gets bigger, by about 4,600 square feet.

Library Director Sarah Bell says it’s important to note that the drawings are only conceptual.

“It could look somewhat different,” Bell said.

A huge drawing of the plan is taped to the window in Bell’s office.

“This was an exercise in seeing if, in this space, we could meet the needs as determined,” she said. “That included giving the teens a separate area to be. It’s not large, but it’s a little bit separate – to provide a space that’s really multipurpose. It won’t be sitting there empty. When it’s not being used it will be a nice reading area for people, much as we already have. But when we have an activity we’ll be able to pull a room divider across and make it a somewhat soundproof area, so people who are here to read or have a quiet space won’t lose that entirely as they do now.”

A diagram on the wall in Bell’s office shows how to rearrange the library furniture to accommodate large groups. Right now, events at the library often displace other patrons. (Photo by Ed Ronco/KCAW)

The desire for more space becomes apparent often at the library. Numerous events are standing-room only, as patrons lean on shelves or listen from the back of the room. Many take place outside regular hours, and ones that happen inside business hours often displace other patrons. Bell remembers a recent teen event.

“Maite, our youth librarian, had planned to conduct it, moving the shelving. And of course, when you move the shelving everything becomes inaccessible to everybody else in that room,” she said. “Instead of having 12 kids show up, she had 22 kids show up. You can’t always predict. So they had to move into the body of the library, and that meant asking the adults that were there please to be considerate and move to other parts of the library. And of course when that happens, folks just leave.”

Now that the Library has secured Assembly approval to move forward, Bell says the next step is most likely to form a building committee and start looking for architects.

Assembly members unanimously supported the plan and praised the fact that it won’t cost the city any more money.

“If we can get the expansion, and get it with no additional borrowing costs, and reduce our yearly maintenance costs, it’s a win-win for everyone,” Assembly member Mike Reif said.

The project is estimated to cost $6.5 million. Bell says the number is high.

“We really kind of feel we probably can get very close to 60 percent for under that amount of money,” Bell said. “But I think the Friends of the Library are really going to work hard to support the full program.”

Friends of the Library is the name of Kettleson’s volunteer booster association. Bell says the library already has more than $5.5 million in state funding. If the project costs more than that, as estimates predict, she anticipates supporters will work to raise the difference.

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