Palmer demolishes part of collapsed library ahead of local vote on construction funds

PALMER — Demolition work was expected to wrap up Tuesday at Palmer’s public library, seven months after a winter roof collapse shuttered the nearly 40-year-old building and with no firm plans for a permanent replacement.

The Palmer library’s partial roof collapse in mid-February was the first of numerous failures across the region, including a collapse at the Turnagain CrossFit gym in South Anchorage that killed one person and trapped two others.

The roof over the library’s children’s section buckled shortly before closing time due to layers of heavy snow piled into a 5-foot drift. A family of four and three library staff escaped the collapse, and no injuries were reported. A broken pipe flooded the floor, weakening support beams throughout the building and causing the entire structure to destabilize, city officials said.

An interim library site that opened in late May about a mile away on Arctic Avenue gives on-demand access to a small fraction of the library’s collection, with the rest available to order from storage.

Only the collapsed portion of the building is getting ripped out now, Palmer city manager John Moosey said Tuesday. Parts of the remaining structure that housed the majority of the library’s collection could be salvaged later as part of a new building, he said.

The city is still working on ways to pay for construction, looking to voters, the state, grants and fundraising to cover the estimated $16 to $18 million project.

The state has kicked in $5 million and the city expects to receive up to $5 million from the insurance payment on the old building. But most of the money for the new project could come from the city’s 6,300 residents through a bond measure on the ballot for the city’s local election on Oct. 3.


If approved, the bond would authorize up to $10 million to be funded by a 0.135% city property tax increase. If voters reject the measure, the city will have to figure out another way to move forward, Moosey said.

“We’re always planning to look for other resources, so we’re going to find a way to do what the community wants, and honor what they tell us at the election box,” he said.

The library serves about 40,000 area residents, with most of those users coming from outside city limits, Moosey said. A large regional library also operates in Wasilla, with smaller locations in Sutton and Talkeetna.

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A design team with Palmer-based Wolf Architecture hired by the city is developing potential building plans, holding listening sessions and getting feedback from area residents and Chickaloon and Knik tribal officials to understand what people want in a new library design, company principal Gary Wolf told the Palmer City Council last week.

The next feedback event will be Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Palmer Depot.

Sitting as if frozen in time on the day of the collapse, a painted owl and hours of operation still adorned the library’s glass front doors early this week. A pair of after-hours collection boxes for borrowed DVDs and books remained open at the curve in front of the building, even as a front loader worked behind yellow construction tape, scooping damaged books, shelves and siding into a dump truck.

Moosey said while many residents have strong opinions about what should be included in the new space, one common ask is for more community meeting space. Still, he said, he doesn’t plan to push for a design that would allow city council meetings to be held in the library, as is the practice in Anchorage.

“I don’t want to turn this into the Taj Mahal — a library, plus a city hall, plus this, plus that, because in my view you change the purpose of the library,” he said. “It should be a place where you find the resources that you need, rather than go and scream down the city manager.”

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Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.