Time for action on the Manitou Springs Public Library

*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on February 7, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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It’s intolerable that Manitou’s library can’t accommodate the disabled and is so clearly inadequate for the community’s needs.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Joanne Garrison.

We spoke recently after a church service at Saint Andrew’s in Manitou. She’s 87 and been a part of Manitou since near the town’s very beginning, when her grandfather arrived (who even took up work at the famed bottling plant in its hey-day).

Joanne and her husband, Rob, loved Manitou’s little library, and when Rob passed away about a decade ago, one of his last regrets was that the library hadn’t grown to match Manitou’s needs or been made accessible for all.

Joanne’s eyes well up when she talks about her husband’s final wishes, and it mixes with her own disappointment in the lack of action on the issue. She points out that she, herself, cannot visit the library she’s been a part of her entire life—and points out that other community elders, including celebrated artist Charles Rockey, can’t either.

How can this stand? How can it be acceptable for Manitou Springs to be the only community in the Pikes Peak region (and well beyond) to evade ADA obligations and systematically exclude people like Joanne Garrison and Charles Rockey from their own library? (Especially considering, as long-time residents, they’ve likely contributed to community needs more than just about anyone else.)

My only answer is some terrible blend of amnesia and apathy. The City Council unanimously endorsed plans to expand the library and make it accessible two full years ago—yet, owing to turnover in city government, the new Council has essentially forgotten this priority. So much so that of the roughly 50 items on City Council’s 2019 Work Plan agenda—the library didn’t even make the cut.

Getting the library fixed isn’t on the 2019 agenda, but “Mineral Springs issues” and “Art approvals” are?

Not that our artesian water and artistic citizens aren’t important—they are—but the mere fact that the library essentially bars access to so many of our neighbors in Manitou ought to merit greater attention and action. Especially if the city wants to keep its status in the “AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities,” a pledge the city’s recently taken to “becoming more age-friendly” which presumably includes those with physical challenges. Fixing the library would be a good start.

Thankfully, there’s an opportunity here. A chance to change the way the story ends. From painful tears, to one where our heroine, Joanne Garrison, smiles at the end and gets to keep faith with her late husband’s final wish.

Here’s how we do it. If this is something you care about, a wrong you want to make right, for yourself or for someone you know that depends on the library, we need your help.

If like Joanne, you feel the library’s current condition is intolerable, requiring expansion and accessibility, come to an open forum, put on by the local Friends of the Library chapter on February 13that the Congregational Church across from the library (see additional details in adjacent announcement). (And if you’re wondering why we’ll meet at a church instead of the library itself, it’s because, of course, the library has no meeting space.)

As Abraham Lincoln once noted, “public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed.”

It seems the city’s leadership requires physical proof of citizen care on the library issue. The only way to escape this amnesia and pierce the cynicism of public apathy is with your action and your presence.

From there, the path ahead is relatively simple. As city budgets have roughly doubled over the past five years into ten-million-dollar terrain, and with over $2 million allocated to capital improvements in the 2019 budget—the $2.1 million needed to expand and make the library ADA-compliant shouldn’t be hard. Just a matter of will.

The time for engagement is past. The plans are shovel-ready and have already been approved.

The time for action is now.

See you on February 13th.

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