Fix Manitou’s library now, Part 1: A problem to solve

*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on November 8, 2018. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

PPB_FixLibrary1_Cavanaugh

It’s time to fix Manitou’s library — it’s far too small and impossible to access for our disabled friends and neighbors. As has been said, nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. In Manitou Springs, the library must be fixed. And the time is now.

First, our library, which holds only 19 people according to fire codes, is too tiny for our community. The city’s population has more than tripled since the library’s doors opened Feb. 22, 1911, yet the building remains the same size. Every other similarly aged, Andrew Carnegie-funded library in the region has been remodeled.

Second, our library is not accessible for those with physical challenges. It was built when life typically terminated around age 50; today, the average person lives a bit longer than 80. Manitou’s demographics reflect this aging trend, and paired with Census data showing that 19 percent of the wider population has some sort of disability — it’s likely that a sizable portion of the people of Manitou Springs physically cannot use their library.

This in a community where every city meeting includes an agenda on which is printed: “the City of Manitou Springs does not discriminate on the basis of disability in the admission to, access to, or operations of programs, services or activities.”

We can fix this. We’re shovel ready.

Architectural plans for the library’s expansion have taken critical public feedback and have been vetted by the city twice. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and, more importantly, the City Council, both unanimously approved the plans in January and February 2017 (respectively). Interested parties can view the plans at ppld.org/manitou-library-expansion.

Viewers will note how well the architect, who designed the Salida Library expansion (also a Carnegie), retained the historical look and character of the building while also launching it into the future to serve the next generation.

All that’s required is funding. About $2.1 million, based on the architect’s estimate. That figure is roughly half the cost of the “public safety multipurpose training and emergency operations facility” that was voted down in 2017. Thankfully, the logic that supports a bigger and better local library is stronger.

For the next several weeks, this column will highlight five of these arguments.

We’ll start with the hard economic case: The return on investment delivers cash value to the community. Then onto the educational case and a library’s role in lifelong learning. Third, we’ll cover the social impact: social isolation kills and libraries counter that cancer with year-round social infrastructure to complement our seasonal parks.

Then onto what might be the toughest conversation, the moral discussion, and the hard fact that the Manitou library’s inaccessibility simply does not live up to our city’s values. Finally, we’ll confront Manitou’s future — and how the city’s fate is entirely wrapped up with its library. This may always be a small town. But its library can and must always be a gateway to a much bigger world.

Some may disagree. They might throw out the red herring that this should be the Pikes Peak Library District’s problem, but the city of Manitou Springs owns the building and bears responsibility for expansion.

Some will say the city should just find a rich person to pay for the library, as was done before — but are we really willing to wait for the next Andrew Carnegie to come along?

Salida received essentially the same building from Mr. Carnegie, yet they took it upon themselves to expand that library several times over in the century since to reflect their community’s growing needs. If Salida did it, we can too.

And we can’t put a Band-Aid on this problem by simply slapping a ramp on the side — it would be a big bridge to nowhere because the building itself is too small for wheelchairs. The two issues, size and accessibility, are inextricably linked and must be tackled simultaneously.

On the subject of bridges, the city recently spenta significant sum to fix the city’s aging critical infrastructure that was built more than a century ago. Now is the time to fix the next piece of aging critical infrastructure — our library, our bridge to the next century.

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