Updated: Oct 26, 2021
By JOHN NORTON The Pueblo Chieftain
Posted Jul 8, 2011 at 12:01 AM
The operation of and funding for an East Side library branch are still the big unknowns but an enthusiastic group of city and library officials and community leaders came up with a lot of ideas Thursday afternoon for what they would like to see.
It’s far from being the final site but the shuttered St. Leander School is the prime candidate for a branch and the community meeting was held at the parish hall, drawing about 50 people.
Jon Walker, executive director of the Pueblo City-County Library District, told the group, “I would love nothing more than to have a full service library in this neighborhood.
He said it would improve the quality of life and take some pressure over the heavily used Barkman branch in Belmont.
Walker said that the East Side needed such a public service with one in three households below the poverty line and a median income two-thirds of Pueblo’s overall level.
At the end of the meeting, he asked if a library was needed and if the community would help and received a resounding “Yes.”
“We will need your help,” he said. The library district doesn’t have the $2 million or so it would take to renovate the three-level building and pointed out that operating costs of the Barkman branch, for example, run close to $500,000 annually.
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to find the money and when the crowd broke up into separate groups one of them brainstormed funding ideas like government and private grants, special taxing districts and other ideas.
Walker told the entire group, “The East Side, I have to tell you, does have some unique opportunities that don’t exist in other parts of Pueblo and at subsequent meetings we will discuss that.”
Walker also pointed to City Councilman Larry Atencio, saying that the neighborhood needs to have an advocate on City Council.
Atencio told the group that the city manager had already assigned planning department people to work on the project but said, “I can’t do it unless I have the community behind me.”
He said that if he asks for something, it’s one voice among seven, but “if I bring in 50 people from the neighborhood, politicians cannot say no to the community people they serve.”
Don Bruestle, who has served on the Urban Renewal Board, said that not everyone interested was able to attend the late afternoon meeting and that the people who did should get the word out. “If you really want something, talk to your family and your neighbors about it.”
Walker said that the library district’s board wants to do more than just the Books in the Park program at El Centro del Quinto Sol and the limited hours at the Risley Middle School satellite.
“We came here today to talk about more than that,” he said, but cautioned, “We’re at the very early steps of that journey. We cannot do anything unless we have will power and one of the biggest hurdles that we’re going to have to overcome is money.”
There could be some help with that from a Minnesota architectural firm that has built or installed in renovated buildings more than 150 libraries. MSR Design. has done restoration work in the U.S. Capitol building, turned a historic closed school in Walsenburg (Justin Martinez actually completed while a design principal at studiotrope Design Collective) into a library and helped to raise funds to repair New Orleans libraries damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Attending the meeting were Justin Martinez and Traci Lesneski of MS&R. It was a long trip for the two architects but a special one for Martinez who attended Bradford Elementary School, Risley Middle School and East High School before going to Colorado State University-Pueblo and on to architectural school.
He’d known about the desire for the East Side to have a library and had pushed the idea at a Denver firm where he worked, but the lack of funding discouraged them. His new employer, however, gets involved in developing community support and helping to find grants and sent him and Lesneski to Pueblo to help get the process started, at the company’s expense.
Martinez offered a slide show that city planner Wade Broadhead had helped produce, showing a number of historic buildings that the East Side had lost.
Lesneski showed examples of what MS&R had done renovating old schools, supermarkets and other buildings in libraries and Martinez asked the group to imagine what St. Leander School would look like with big windows, lit up at night and lots of activity inside.
Lesneski talked about how libraries in the 21st century had changed to offer more technology, community gathering places and other services. “It’s not about the book anymore. It’s about the users,” she said.
But the group already was aware of that. When they came back from their subcommittees, it was obvious they wanted more than bookshelves. Technology, especially Internet access and e-books were high on their lists, along with child care areas and a cafe -- maybe rented out to providers to offset operation costs -- and community meeting areas and art galleries.
There are still a lot of questions, Walker and others acknowledged.
Rev. Jim King of the Diocese of Pueblo business office said that the building, even unused, is costing money for insurance and an electric meter. There have not been any talks about selling it and a look at the assessor’s map shows that the building is offset from lot lines that could allot it to be sold off separately from the city block the parish owns now.