Compass: Tennis courts are fine, but library serves more

As a long-time supporter of the Anchorage Public Library, I am deeply disappointed that the Loussac Library renovation was not among the projects funded in the Project 80s package in the state capital budget. The state funding was a critical piece that would have allowed the library to move forward with creating a new entrance this year, a project that is desperately needed and widely supported.

The Loussac project is the result of a yearlong community planning process and underwent significant public vetting (including Assembly approval) before being submitted to the legislature. The Anchorage Library Foundation, which has a strong record of success that includes raising $14 million for recent branch library renovations, pledged to oversee a private capital campaign to supplement state funding. Library supporters wrote letters and visited legislators in Juneau during the session (many of whom believed that the Loussac project was in the Project 80s package when they voted to approve the state capital budget).

So it came as a big surprise to library supporters when we discovered that our project was not included in the "Project 80s Deferred and Critical Maintenance" line in the state capital budget, and had been replaced with the new indoor tennis courts at Dempsey Arena. While we are very supportive of new recreation opportunities for our community, and wish no ill upon the tennis supporters, we have serious questions about the public vetting and viability of this project.

How do new tennis courts qualify as a "Project 80s" project? Why was this project not included in the mayor's priorities that were approved by the Assembly last year? Does this project have community support?

When Mayor Sullivan took office, he pledged to focus on taking care of existing municipal facilities instead of creating new projects. He made several commitments over the years to library supporters to help us fix the Loussac entrance, which is a major health and safety concern. The stairs to the building are a ticking-time bomb that needs to be addressed before someone becomes seriously injured attempting to enter the building.

In addition to safety issues, the library's heating and cooling system is worn out and costly to maintain. With over 1,000 visits a day over the past 27 years, the Loussac has literally been loved to death. The longer we wait to fix this building, the more expensive it becomes.

The delay of this project affects the library's goals to improve technology, workforce development and education in support of community initiatives, such as the United Way's 90 percent graduation by 2020 and Anchorage Economic Development Corporation's Live Work Play campaigns. The library is in the midst of a major transformation into a dynamic and interactive hub for community engagement, but this building is holding it back.

Even with an inefficient building, the library has accomplished much in recent years. Teen Underground was opened with private investment led by the Anchorage Rotary Club and is now filled with teens working with positive adult role models in classes like Homework Help, Video Club and the Teen Writing Society. A new early literacy space will open at Loussac this fall, thanks to gifts from Target, Wells Fargo and community volunteers. The space is critical for preparing kids to enter kindergarten and help meet the long-term high-school graduation goals. The library also recently launched an Innovation Lab and is offering classes on small business development and resume writing. Imagine what the library could do for our community with a renovated building.

If you would like to see the library do even more to improve our community's education and economic opportunities, I urge you to support the Loussac Future campaign. Library supporters are working harder than ever before to keep the momentum going on the Loussac renovation, and we are currently exploring our options for future state support, a municipal bond and a private capital campaign.

You can learn more and get involved through

Mike Robinson is past president of the Alaska Library Association.