by Rick Langenberg:
The Cripple Creek City Council could determine the fate of moving plans for the local library district this Wednesday, after nearly four decades of the Franklin Ferguson Memorial Library having a main location at the Cripple Creek High School.
Representatives of the Southern Teller County Public Library District plan to address the council at its regular Aug. 6 session and announce details of their new proposed digs and present plans for a name change. “There is a silver lining in everything,” said Tom Litherland, a board member of the library district and a former Cripple Creek mayor, in describing the district’s decision to part ways from the RE=1 Cripple Creek/Victor School District. Under several proposed sites downtown, the new Cripple Creek library would have a much larger space than what it occupied at the school, according to Litherland. He indicated the district is eying sites of at least 12,000-square feet, presenting a 30-plus percent hike from their current location. He said this would give the district the capability to offer a lot more programs for kids and adults, and to add more computer equipment. This moving agreement followed several months of heated discussions involving a new contract for the library district. This new proposed agreement would establish significant financial increases for operating costs, insurance, utilities and other fees that raised the ire of library district officials.
Both sides have vastly different interpretations of this deal, with the school district leaders saying the contract didn’t amount to that big of a difference from previous agreements. “We want the library to remain here; we’re doing everything possible,” said RE-1 School District Superintendent Les Lindauer. But the library district board voted to sever ties and told the school district it would be vacating the Ferguson Memorial Library at the end of July. Scores of boxes were packed with books and equipment, in preparation for the move. The district currently owns about 26,000 books, according to local librarians.
The city of Cripple Creek then entered the negotiations, in an attempt to defuse the feud and some of the reported personality clashes between both boards. “Let’s do what is best for the community,” said City Administrator Ray White in explaining the city’s main goal in intervening. Also, from a legal standpoint, the city could wield the deciding vote on whether the library can move out of the school. According to a 1990 legal agreement, the city of Cripple Creek must grant the library district the okay to relocate to a new site.
School district leaders are asking for the city council to take a firm stand on this issue, citing the importance of keeping the library at the school. “It is the city’s position that we would like to see library remain at the school if possible,” said White. “That is best thing for the community.” But that said, White concedes that the library district has made a strong argument for moving. And if a final agreement can’t be reached over utility and insurance expenses and other fees, then the city may have limited power in not allowing the district to move to a new site. In addition, city officials have expressed much concern over the wrangling between both sides. “It is unfortunate,” said White. “We are disappointed. There has been no progress in the negotiations.”
Recently, attorneys from all three entities threw in the towel, with positions hardening between the school district board and the library district. A new proposed contract by the school district was rejected last week by the library board. The library board representatives described the new pact as part of a bullying attempt, while school officials believe it offered a major compromise. However, some local observers are hoping that a public dialogue on the library moving issue and the proposed fees may turn the corner. This will mark the first time the library district board has publicly presented details of its moving plans to the community. During a previous meeting, Tim Braun, president of the school board, informed the council of the previous agreement and the fact that the city had the ultimate say in approving the moving plans of the district. In addition, local officials say they are baffled at why a compromise can’t be reached between both entities.
According to sources, part of the problem stems from conflicting personalities and the way the negotiations began. But time is running out, with a new school year approaching. Despite the controversy, White cautioned that the city council has a limited scope in overseeing the fight. He said the council mainly will just decide if the city can give the library district the opportunity to relocate. And with this decision comes another vital question, according to White: “What is best direction for the community?”