Denver Public Library wants bond money for central branch

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A new arena, two new library branches, shelters for the homeless. These are some of the things Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration wants to fund with a new $ 450 million bond package. But while this package includes a wide range of projects, Jeff Riley, executive director of the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation, is concerned about what’s left: to help complete the current renovation of the Denver Public Library’s central branch.

As revealed during the reopening of the Central Library with truncated hours on July 18 after its closure since March 2020, much of the first floor of the facility from around 1995 has been renovated, but there is still a long way to go.

The first phase of the central library renovation project had a total price estimate of $ 65 million. The 2017 Elevate Denver Bond Package provided $ 38 million for the work; Thanks to other city funds and funding generated by the foundation, $ 46 million of the $ 65 million has already been covered, leaving a gap of $ 19 million.

“We’re not against any part of the bond. We’d just like to find a way to raise another $ 19 million, whether it’s from bond, stimulus money or whatever,” says Riley. .

“We figured that because it was classified as a level one project, it would probably get at least one funding and that this additional funding would give us, if necessary, a little more time to fundraise to do the whole phase. one, ”he said. keep on going. “Without that it makes things harder and longer and more expensive. If we got funding now, we could continue with the current contractor and architect. It’s a whole process to contract them. as contracts with the city “,

The bond package, which Denver City Council is expected to refer to the ballot this month for Denver residents to vote on in November, includes more than $ 25.8 million for the construction of new branches of library in Globeville and Westwood. It also includes an allocation of over $ 3.4 million for the Hampden branch library expansion. As revealed last week, the costliest item is $ 160 million for a new arena at the National Western Center.

During the first phase, the renovation of the central library focuses on eight main elements: two new entrances, a new children’s library, a new library for teenagers, a new outdoor play area, a renovation of the great hall, a new common area and a large program area. When the Central Library reopened last month, completed projects included a room just off the Broadway entrance that allows meetings between homeless people and peer browsers and social workers. The ground floor also has new bathrooms, a much-needed update for a building that typically served 2,500 people per day in the pre-COVID era.

Key areas that remain unfunded, Riley said, are the new teen space, outdoor play space, common area, and part of the Great Hall renovations. “We’re just trying to do it in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Riley said.

For Rachel Fewell, the administrator of the Central Library, not securing the funding through the bond package would mean disappointing Denver Public Library patrons.

“It’s just a half-finished project then,” she explains. “We can only do a few of the things that we have heard from our community, what they want from the library, that we have shared with them our vision for. It is difficult to fund projects for this. building in another way. “

If the library got the full $ 19 million through the bond package, the renovations could be completed by the end of 2023, Riley says.

He wonders if the Hancock administration has chosen to include certain library projects in the package in order to help sell the new arena land. “I think it was pretty awesome to put these things together so that people who might not support one thing support that other thing,” Riley said. “We would like the link to pass no matter what.”

But he would still like the city to add money for the central library project to the package. “It would seem that it is not common to redo what the mayor asks for and I understand that and I understand it,” he concludes. “I don’t know how possible or impossible it is.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A Denver city council committee will discuss the bond package at 1 p.m. today, August 3.

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