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Residents work to save Sunnyside, Fort Lewis Mesa libraries

Groups applying for grants, exploring special taxing districts
Satellite locations of the Durango Public Library at Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools may close in July if new funding cannot be secured.

Community groups are working to find funding to save two satellite locations of the Durango Public Library from closing this summer at Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools.

La Plata County commissioners eliminated funding for the branch locations from the county’s 2018 budget to help deal with a decline in oil and gas revenue. The county saved about $115,000 by cutting the libraries from its budget.

Since then, a $100,000 state grant that Durango School District 9-R allocated to the libraries has allowed them to continue operating, Library Director Sandy Irwin said. The grant will allow the libraries to operate through June.

Irwin

The grant pays for staff, who split their time between library and school duties, she said.

The possible closure of the libraries has sparked the formation of two citizen groups, Fort Lewis Mesa Library Advocates and the Sunnyside Community Library Supporters, she said.

The groups are exploring grants that could keep the libraries open and the formation of special property taxing districts that could provide long-term funding, Irwin said.

The libraries are key community centers in rural areas and provide access to library materials for parents and others who may not be able to drive into Durango regularly, said Christina Albrecht with the Fort Lewis Mesa Library Advocates.

The Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa locations expect to circulate 13,100 materials in 2018, according to the city of Durango’s budget. By comparison, Durango Public Library expects to circulate 390,000 materials in 2018.

Albrecht, who lives a quarter mile from the Fort Lewis Mesa library, said she relied on it heavily after her three children were born. It her gave a connection to the community and books at a time when she didn’t have time or money to drive into Durango.

“The library was my total sanity salvation,” she said.

It also gave her access to “mounds of books” to help educate her children before they started school. Now, her children are 12, 9 and 6 and still use the library frequently. If the library closed, there wouldn’t be a community center open after school for the family to use, she said.

Albrecht, a book project manager, also uses the library frequently to copy, print and scan materials as part of her job. She does not have space at home to complete those activities, she said.

Her family asked county commissioners to preserve funding for the library. She even met with Commissioner Brad Blake in person. While she found sympathy for the libraries, she said she was told the county couldn’t preserve funding for them.

Now, she is working on applying for a Carnegie Foundation grant to help sustain both libraries, she said.

In addition to grants, it is possible the Durango School District could receive another state grant that could fund the libraries, Irwin said.

However, the state Legislature would have to authorize funding for the grant program, and the district would have to reallocate the money to the libraries, she said.

Property tax districts could be a long-term solution, and both districts would need to collect about $120,000 a year to sustain the libraries, Irwin said.

In the short-term, both community groups are raising money to cover expenses at the libraries, she said.

Both citizen groups have set up websites to raise awareness about the problem, and Durango Education Foundation is accepting donations on behalf of the libraries.

Friends of the Durango Public Library, a nonprofit, has also been raising money for materials and programs to supplement funding from the state grant, Irwin said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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