Library officials will likely move forward with an expansion and remodel of the library on 4J Road without a matching grant from the Campbell County Commission.
The commissioners met with members of the library board and library foundation Monday afternoon to talk about applying for an Abandoned Mine Land Public Facilities grant.
While the commissioners wanted to provide a match, they decided Tuesday morning not to do so, given the recent news that Blackjewel shut down two mines.
Campbell County Public Library executive director Terri Lesley said although the application does not require a local match, the chances of the grant being awarded increase greatly if there is one.
The application is due July 15.
The expansion is based on the results of a 2015 feasibility study, and would add almost 17,000 square feet of new space on the north and south sides of the building, as well as upgrade and renovate the existing space.
The commissioners discussed committing $7.5 million, or $2.5 million per year over the next three fiscal years.
If the county is awarded the grant, it would be 12 to 18 months before it could spend the money, and the construction would take place over three years, Lesley said.
She noted the timing is unfortunate, since the county is in the middle of seeing if it would be feasible to add a downtown branch library — which the grant would not pay for — but “these kinds of funds do not come along very often,” she said.
The county can’t “rely on it coming again any time soon,” said library board member Amber Jackson-Jordan. “It’s not a guarantee.”
Dave Ebertz, a member of the library foundation, said the foundation can commit $400,000 at this time. The money would have to be spent on design or equipment.
Commission Chairman Rusty Bell said the $7.5 million won’t be earmarked for the library if the county does not get the grant. And if the county gets the grant but it’s less than $8 million, Christensen said the library would be responsible to make up the gap.
If the county were to provide a match, it would take the money out of its short-term capital construction account, which now has $21 million, Christensen said. That money “has to last a really long time,” he added, but that won’t happen if the county uses a third of it on the library.
Commissioner D.G. Reardon said the prospect made him nervous, because with the bankruptcies of Cloud Peak and Blackjewel, and the difficulties of collecting their unpaid taxes, the county’s tax revenue will be coming in more slowly than it has in the past.
The AML program’s focus is to help communities mitigate the impacts of coal mining. The Abandoned Mine Land Division anticipates having a total of $20 million available for project funding, and it wants to distribute that money as equitably as possible.
“I think it’s unlikely that they’ll award a third of their total pot to Campbell County,” Christensen said, adding that almost every county, town and city in the state is eligible for the money.
Despite the county’s fiscal situation, library board chairman Richard Cisneros said he believes it might be worth it, because “at some point down the road we’re going to have to expand.”
The library has been dealing with space issues for more than two decades, Lesley said.
A space study was conducted in fiscal year 2001, and for the next five years, the county worked to remodel and expand the library.
The study projected that the county’s 2010 population would be close to 35,000. The actual population that year ended up at about 46,000.
The library has not expanded its physical collection since 2010. If it adds a book, it has to take out a book to make room. Lesley said electronic collections have helped somewhat, but added that the physical collection makes up more than 90% of the library’s total circulation.
Lesley said she thinks the library has some good points to make.
The library does several things to contribute to the community’s health and wellness, she said, including hosting a resource fair so the public knows what benefits are available in the county, and it has created “a wellness neighborhood” in the library.
Additionally, the energy industry depends on the library as a community meeting space, Lesley said, and during the economic downturn, laid-off mine employees came to the library to use its technology to find jobs.
“What this does for us ... is it brings us $8 million back into the community for a project that needs to be done,” said Bell.
“I know you have some other projects out there. It could be a problem to support competing grants,” Lesley said.
Bell said he doesn’t have a problem with it.
“Let’s be honest, the vast majority of AML money comes from Campbell County,” Bell said. “It doesn’t bother me to have multiple grant applications.”
“We should try to get as much of that money back as we can,” Cisneros said.