New library begins to take shape

“A dedication to sustainable building has to start now, in the design process,” stated Michelle Reott emphatically at the recent public forum regarding Durango’s new library. Reott was not alone in her opinion. As the meeting progressed and architects from Barker, Rinker and Seacat opened the floor for comment, the “green contingent” was vocal in their demands. The new building must be designed for energy efficiency and sustainability.

“I think it is because we did not list (sustainability) as a public request from our last meeting that they are concerned now,” said Sherry Taber, Library Director. “But we want to assure everyone that we want to make the building as sustainable as possible.”

Public comment and opinion was the driving force of the forum, held May 24, and Durango residents were not shy with their requests. During the first part of the meeting, architects presented the outcomes of all three earlier forums. At those times, they met with students and school representatives, city councilors and county commissioners, and the library board and steering committee, as well as the general public. With many of the groups overlapping in their requests, the consensus from the Durango community was that the library be inviting to all ages, have space for individual and group activities, be representative of regional cultures and history, have “function over flash,” connect diverse voices in the community, and offer a venue for regional artwork.

Requests for enhanced collections in both print and nonprint materials, comfortable reading spaces, and an in-library café were also numerous. Meanwhile, the city’s purchase of the current Mercy Hospital site, which sits directly on the river, inspired requests for incorporating outdoor spaces and utilizing the city’s river walk for access. Last Wednesday’s forum generated many of the same interests.

“The challenge for us, working within the budget we have, is how to meet all the demands,” said Taber. “There is a crying need for meeting space in Durango, and we must look at the technological needs, but we also have to take into consideration books and the traditional purposes of a library.”

Taber says that in spite of all the technology and electronic media, when a city builds a new library the staff sees circulation sky-rocket and what the population wants is books.  But keeping tradition in mind, the quickly changing world of technology, and planning for those changes, are also realities. Another planning obstacle is that the population of Durango is “mushrooming” sooner than initial projections anticipated, creating even higher demands on yet-to-be-realized library resources.

“I will push the edges of the budget as far as I can,” said Taber, “but how do we fit it all in?”

The team is continuing to accept suggestions for the new library. Another public meeting will be held Thurs., June 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Durango Community Recreation Center. Residents can also go on-line at and send comments electronically.

Fire restrictions go into effect

Just days after the largest regional fire of the year was under control, fire restrictions are going into effect in Southwest Colorado. Beginning June 2, restrictions will be enforced on the majority of San Juan public lands.

Over the past week, firefighters fought to contain the Black Ridge Fire, which was started by lightning on Southern Ute lands south of Durango on May 24. The fire was reported 100 percent contained on the evening of May 29 and was 530 acres in size. Estimated cost of fighting the blaze was upwards of $600,000.

In an effort to avoid more costly and hazardous wildfire, the San Juan Public Lands Center, in cooperation with Montezuma County and other land management agencies, have enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions. According to the restrictions: campfires are limited to permanent fire rings or grates within developed campgrounds; smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings or 3-foot. wide areas cleared of vegetation; chainsaws and other internal-combustion engines must have spark arresters; torches with an open flame may not be used; and the use of explosives is prohibited. The restrictions cover all San Juan public lands in the vicinity of Durango, outside of the South San Juan and Weminuche wilderness areas.

The restrictions are timely, according to Mark Lauer, fire management officer for the San Juan Public Lands Center. Over the Memorial Day weekend, several unattended campfires were found. “With the dry conditions in our lower elevations and the high winds that the area experienced, it’s just sheer luck that we didn’t have another big fire this weekend,” Lauer said.

Fire managers look at fuel moistures and other indices to determine the fire danger, as well as some subjective factors, when deciding whether to institute fire restrictions. “All our dead and down fuels are exhibiting very low fuel moistures, and the annual grasses, like cheatgrass, have begun to cure out, increasing the chances of a human-caused fire escaping,” Lauer said.

Fortunately, Southwest Colorado also has ample firefighting resources for this dry year. “Right now we are still in good shape in Southwest Colorado,” said Lauer, “We have some additional resources on hand as a precaution due to the dry conditions.”

Firefighters have already responded to almost 70 fires in the region this year, and the Durango Airtanker Base has already gone through more than 100,000 gallons of retardant, much of it on last week’s Black Ridge Fire. Fire restrictions have also gone into effect on Southern Ute lands, in Montezuma County and at Mesa Verde National Park.

Silverton searches for link-up

The Town of Silverton is hoping to cross the “digital divide.” Operation Link Up, a community coalition in Silverton, organized a “human link” in conjunction with last weekend’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Protesters hoped to bring attention to a missing fiber optic line that Qwest was contracted to bring to Silverton from Durango as part of a state-wide initiative in 2000.  

Silverton’s Mayor Jim Huffman commented, “The distance between Durango and Silverton is bridged by a railroad, a highway and supposedly a fiber optic link. Our goal is to focus public attention on our missing fiber optic line, which is critical to the future of this isolated community.”

The fiber optic line is stalled 16 miles south of Silverton, creating a “digital divide.”  All of the town’s telecommunications comes through a single microwave radio relay built in the early 1970s. “The lack of fiber negatively impacts education, government, business, and cell and phone services in Silverton,” said San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman. “Until Qwest completes the last leg of the state’s technology race to bring fiber infrastructure to rural areas, we’re falling further behind every day.”

Qwest claims that right-of-way problems stopped the connection. However, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which owns right-of-way the entire way to Silverton, says the telecommunications company has never contacted them. For more information, visit

– compiled by Shawna Bethell and Will Sands