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Opinion: Denver’s November bond election should include funds to finish Central Library renovation

The project is on the city’s priority list, but it’s missing from the bond question

To boost the economic recovery of Denver, the City & County of Denver will be asking voters to approve a proposed $450 million RISE bond package in November. The list of projects is a mixture of facilities, transportation, mobility, parks and recreation and housing and sheltering. 

On Aug. 3, a Denver City Council committee approved the bond package and asked the full Council to do the same. But the committee split the projects into five different ballot questions, which will allow voters to decide on categories of projects separately.

Cathy Lucas, left, and Amy Brimah

As supporters of Denver Public Library, we appreciate the inclusion of two new branches for the Westwood and Globeville neighborhoods and an expansion to the Hampden Branch. However, still missing from the list are needed renovations to the Central Library that remain unfunded. The committee was not provided with alternative funding solutions to complete the renovations. Including the Central Library renovations in the bond is a significant opportunity that should not be missed. 

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The estimated renovation cost of Central Library is $110.5 million. The first four phases are budgeted at a combined $65.5 million; the last three phases are estimated to cost a combined $55 million. In 2017, the library received $38 million from the Elevate Denver bond for the first four phases, and the work is underway.

With that bond funding, plus additional city funding, and contributions from the Library Friends Foundation, $46.6 million has been raised toward the $65.5 million. This leaves a current gap of $18.9 million to complete the first four phases.

The Denver Public Library asked the city to include the remaining renovations of the entire Central Library in Denver’s November RISE bond proposal, but it is nowhere to be found, despite the fact that it is on the city’s Six-Year Capital Improvement Project Plan. The library does not have a dedicated funding stream to maintain its facilities and assets, which are so heavily used. We ask how the city plans to fund this important public asset. 

It’s imperative to Denver residents that the city find a way to include the Central Library in the RISE bond question. This investment would fund one of the city’s most critical institutions.

With an average 2,500 daily visitors prior to the pandemic, you cannot deny the importance of this institution. The Central Library is unique in that it builds community health by providing information and knowledge to all. This is not just a building with books; it is a cornerstone of downtown Denver and contributes to the overall vitality of a bustling city. 

We are so close to funding the first four phases of the Central Library renovation. The remaining funding would add a center to empower youth and support their creative, educational and social-emotional needs, a new outdoor play space for younger children and their families, reimagine our heavily used community technology center for current and future needs, and enhance the workforce development and entrepreneurship work the library provides.

This is a multi-generational and transformational community asset project that supports people experiencing homelessness, immigrants and refugees, older adults, and youth — to name just a few. If the renovation were fully funded, this project would add 1,500 jobs to Denver’s economy as we emerge from the pandemic. No other bond project on this list except National Western Center has similar economic stimulus benefits. 

Libraries are among the best use of public funds: They improve quality of life and enable people to achieve dreams. They are a gateway to opportunity. Libraries are necessary, essential, and Denver Public Library has proved its worth during the pandemic.

Public libraries support personal productivity and cultural and community engagement. They bridge the digital divide by giving thousands of people access to computers and the internet. They provide support services for job seekers, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and students.

The Central Library also is the center of operations that supports the library’s 25 locations throughout Denver, contributing to a more equitable future for those in our community struggling the most. 

Quit playing around with the Central renovation, Denver, and include the Central Library in the next bond program. 

Cathy Lucas is president, Denver Public Library Commission. Contact:

Amy Brimah is chair of the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation. Contact:

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The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to

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