The expansion project at the crowded Jessamine County Public Library is right back where it was a year ago after a grant program didn’t make the cut in the state budget.
The Kentucky Public Library Facilities Construction Grant Program would have benefited 23 library expansions in Kentucky by paying a portion of the debt service for 20 years, but the state legislature did not provide the $2 million in 2012-2013 and the $4 million in 2013-2014 necessary for the project.
“I worked alongside 22 other library directors to lobby for public library construction funds during this recent legislative session,” JCPL executive director Ron Critchfield said. “Unfortunately, the climate in Frankfort was not conducive to funding many projects at this time.”
Critchfield said there was a “slim possibility” that the legislature might fund the projects during next year’s session, but for now, it’s up to JCPL to find money for a proposed $5 million expansion that would double the meeting space, the public-computer area and the children’s library.
The number of educational programs at JCPL and attendance at the programs has more than doubled in the past four years. Library visits have increased from about 197,000 to more than 240,000 a year in the last four years, and the library has about 536,000 circulation items — nearly 150,000 more than it had four years ago.
One-third of the library’s collection is checked out at any given time, Critchfield said, and the shelves would overflow if just half of those were returned at one time.
“The question is not what could happen (if an expansion doesn’t materialize), but rather what problems are we having now?” Critchfield said. “We are out of space now and experiencing increasing numbers of visitors, program attendees, and items checked out. We are below state library standards in space needed and in the amount spent on the collection for a county our size.”
As the number of library programs increases, there is less space and time for community use of the meeting area.
“JCPL would love to offer a free venue for birthday parties, community meetings, family gatherings, even a free space for a wedding reception of 300 or so guests,” Critchfield said. “This could be possible with expanded meeting-room space.”
With about $550,000 in the bank for the expansion right now and an estimate that $1 million more can be saved before an expansion is completed, the library is left with a funding gap of about $4 million.
Critchfield said the ideal scenario would be to receive millions from a donor and commence construction six months later. He said a “more realistic” scenario would involve a capital campaign that would need to raise $4 million if the state does not assist in 2013 and $3 million if it does.
Jessamine County’s representatives in the state legislature, Sen. Tom Buford and Rep. Bob Damron, both said before the session that the expansion was needed but that adequate resources may not be available for the state to help fund it.
“I’m very much in favor of trying to help the libraries move forward,” Buford said in December. “There’s a tremendous amount of traffic in all public libraries, and we’ve got to keep them up to date.”
Critchfield said the library is looking into other grants but that the outlook there is bleak.
“There are a couple of grant opportunities we will pursue but, again, in this economic climate grants are difficult to receive,” he said. “This is due to the fact that a large numbers of institutions are competing for a limited amount of funds.”