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Conifer residents still want a free-standing library, and they reminded the Jefferson County Public Library board of that fact on March 17.

Members of the Conifer Area Council, a Conifer library book group and the Aspen Park Improvement Association, along with library users, expressed the need for a separate library rather than the one housed in Conifer High School. Difficult access to the high school and the curtailed hours to use the library were among their chief concerns.

The residents spoke during public comment at the library board meeting before board members began discussing the first draft of a new library facilities master plan, which is updating a plan generated in 2018.

The 2018 plan, according to Suzy Nelson, who represented the CAC, recommended the library board explore opportunities to move the Conifer library into its own building. That recommendation isn’t in the 2022 plan.

The 2022 plan puts Conifer library in a needs-based category with the Golden and Wheat Ridge libraries. Later in the meeting, the consultants said they didn’t have any projects planned for the libraries in this category.

The 9,000-square-foot Conifer library has been housed at Conifer High School since the school opened in 1996 and is shared with high school students and staff. In contrast, the 17,000-square-foot Evergreen library, which was built in 1993, will be upgraded soon.

Conifer concerns

The Conifer Area Council conducted a survey of residents in 2021 to gauge their interest in a free-standing library.

The survey found that 93% of 552 respondents wanted a full-service library in a separate building, with the majority saying it could provide longer and more convenient hours, easier access than the steps leading to the high school, and better parking. Currently, the Conifer library is open to the public after school and on weekends.

That will likely move to 4 p.m. in fall 2023 when Jeffco Public Schools changes school start and end times.

Speakers also said Conifer residents, who pay taxes to the library district, aren’t getting their fair share of services compared with the amount they pay.

The Conifer library became more accessible when the library put in a dropbox in the roundabout in front of the school and added lockers where people can pick up materials at the Mountain Resource Center.

Speakers said it would be nice to have library programs for children in the mornings, and it wasn’t fair for residents to have to drive to Evergreen or down the hill to access library services on weekdays.

“Saying the Evergreen library serves Conifer is misleading,” Nelson said. “The library’s mission statement is about providing equal access to library services across the county. Size (of the library) isn’t the issue; access is the issue.”

Facilities study

The library district uses a countywide space-planning target of 0.5 to 0.6 square feet of branch library space per person living in the area. The county has been broken into three zones — north, middle and south — and the plan looks at the most cost-effective way to get to the square-footage target.

Jill Eyres with Group 4, the consultant that created both the 2018 and 2022 facility plans, said the report recommends broad projects rather than small community projects to get to the 0.5 square foot target, noting that people are used to driving to get services they want and need, including libraries.

“The biggest opportunities to reach 0.5 by 2030 are concentrated in three projects: the new South County library, expanded service in Lakewood and a new destination library in Arvada,” Eyres said.

The South County library is expected to be about 40,000 square feet and located in the southern part of the county. A site has not been identified.

A couple board members suggested that the zones used to look at facilities should include a fourth zone: the foothills. Another board member wanted to look at maps of library square footages compared with area populations.

“It’s hard to understand how different population groups are impacted,” board member Charles “Chic” Naumer said. “That would help us understand Conifer better.”

He pointed to travel times being different for Conifer residents compared with those living down the hill.

Donna Walker, the library district’s executive director, said district officials haven’t discussed what type of free-standing library could be put in Conifer.