by Rick Langenberg:
Following months of heated debate, threats and moving ultimatums, the Cripple Creek library and school district boards have signed a 20-year agreement that will assure the Franklin Ferguson Memorial facility remains a fixture at the CC school indefinitely.
This pact followed 11th hour negotiations, initiated by the Southern Teller County Library District Board. Only this time, the talks didn’t occur between leaders of both boards. Instead, they involved Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White, the head superintendent and high school principal of the RE-1 CC/V School District and two Southern Teller library board representatives. A final agreement was signed by leaders of the library and school district boards early last week.
Officials from all entities appear satisfied with the deal that requires the library district to pay 60 percent of the salary and related expenses for the facility’s head librarian, with the school district picking up the other 40 percent. The head librarian role, though, will be supervised by the school district administration, including annual contracts and future hiring. In turn, the school district has waived its previous request for the library district to foot the bill for monthly utility and service expenses. “We are glad they could get this worked out,” said White. “It has been our position that having the library remain at the school was in the best interests of the community and the school kids.”
White said he felt somewhat optimistic after the first negotiating session that the library would remain at the school, where it has been located for the last 38 years. The city council helped spark the latest talks by staunchly opposing the library district board’s plan to move its supply of 26,000 books, videos and computer equipment to a new downtown location. The library board had proposed moving to a facility near the Butte Theater, known as the former Golden Horseshoe casino.
The city then informed the library board that it would file necessary court action preventing them from moving any material from the Ferguson facility at the school. A previous 1990 management agreement permitted the city to prohibit such a move if it determined that this would “harm the library’s reputation or diminish the level of service to its patrons.” Despite a bizarre fight that strained relations between the library and school districts, fueling many questions from local residents, representatives from both sides appear satisfied with the final result. “It was unfortunate,” admitted Tom Litherland, a board member of the library district, regarding the fight. He still, though, maintains that the real issue centered around one taxing district telling another entity how it can spend its money. He said the agreement should provide a long-term future for the library and clarify its relationship with the school district.
The only downside he sees is that the agreement would prevent the library district from occupying a much bigger facility. The building eyed by the library board would have provided twice the size of what it currently occupies at the school, and could have increased programs, according to Litherland. However, the Ferguson library got a recent boost from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and received $4,000 worth of additional shelving, without paying a cent.
Last week, head Ferguson librarian Mike McDonald and his staff was frantically working to unload boxes and to get the facility ready for the CC/V students. As of the middle of last week, they had about 5,000 books left to store. Thousands of books were boxed up, when the library district board announced plans to move out, following a contract dispute with the school district..
McDonald said the new shelving would give the library much needed space and allow it to open a new study area inside the 8,000 square-foot facility. “We were running out of room. This will really help,” he said.
The head Franklin Ferguson librarian also expressed much relief over the new agreement. “I am happy that things were settled,” said McDonald, who experienced quite a grilling during a recent council meeting. Virtually every council member questioned the lack of negotiations between the boards, citing the removal of the library from the school as a big community blow. RE-1 School Board President Tim Braun admitted he was surprised that a final agreement was reached, following the tone of previous talks. But that said, he believes this will provide a much more long-term arrangement. “We were trying to be as upfront as possible,” said Braun, who stressed that the school board was attempting to craft a more formal agreement with the library district than what had occurred in the past. “We were not the villain here,” said Braun. “They (library district) get $120,000 in tax money a year,” added the school board president, who cited previous agreements that required the library district to pay certain fees to the school district.
According to sources, tensions still exist between certain leaders of both entities, but the ax has been buried– at least for this school year.