By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Officials with the Garfield County Libraries District want to install a gas fireplace in the relatively new Carbondale Branch Library, but some people in Carbondale think a gas fireplace is a bad idea that sends the wrong message about the town’s energy priorities.
The issue gained public prominence on April 14, during a discussion at the Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting between the trustees and library board member Bill Lamont, about an issue not related to the fireplace.
During the discussion, Trustee Pam Zentmyer brought up the fireplace project, which is scheduled for review at the May 7 meeting of the library district’s board of directors in Parachute.
Library district meetings rotate through the six towns in Garfield County, and the next Carbondale meeting is in August.
Zentmyer, at the Carbondale trustees’ meeting, recalled that there was “some concern in the community about the fireplace” a few years ago, when the library was being planned to replace the older, smaller Gordon Cooper Library facility.
The concerns had to do with Carbondale’s active opposition to natural-gas drilling in the Thompson Divide, a mountainous and relatively undeveloped area southwest of Carbondale, and the feelings on the part of some that having a decorative, natural-gas fireplace in a public building might be seen as hypocritical.
“I feel a little alarmed,” Zentmyer said of the gas fireplace project going forward “without public input from the people in this community.”
Lamont, who is Carbondale’s representative on the library board, acknowledged that the fireplace had been discussed in the planning phase for the new library, and that there had been resistance to the idea.
“It was never brought to a head because we took it off the table,” he said, noting that there were other debates with town residents during the library planning process, such as the removal of several old trees for safety reasons and to make way for better views of Mt. Sopris from the facility, and the initial lack of solar panels on the roof to generate some of the power needed to run the new library facility.
But, he told the trustees, the idea came up again when a Carbondale-based firm, The Fireplace Company, offered to donate a gas fireplace in honor of former library board member Lanny Kroh, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and Trustee John Hoffmann agreed to build a decorative enclosure for the appliance.
Zentmyer pressed her argument, however, noting, “I just think there are a lot of people who probably feel like I do.”
Other trustees, however, have indicated they did not feel as strongly about the matter as Zentmyer.
Hoffmann, who runs the Roaring Forge blacksmithing shop in Carbondale, said the decorative enclosure is about half done, and added that he is not sure when it will be completed.
In defense of the idea, Hoffmann told his fellow trustees, “We’re also the only library in the district that doesn’t have a fireplace,” and added that it would be a relatively low-intensity appliance.
“I don’t see it as a waste of energy or anything,” he told The Sopris Sun on Friday, explaining that the fireplace is rated as putting out 20,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs), which he said is “the smallest gas fireplace” available. He also feels that, as the library is heated by natural gas anyway, the fireplace will not add much to the facility’s utility bills.
“It’s an efficient appliance, and there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be one there,” he said in a telephone interview.
And Mayor Stacey Bernot, who suggested the library board should get community input before installing a fireplace, praised the district for being “thoughtful” in moving to honor a library board member experiencing health difficulties.
Mollie Roache, manager of the Carbondale Branch Library, said that she is aware that some in town feel the fireplace would not be a good idea, but that others have approached her to ask that a fireplace be installed.
Roache said she has no feelings about the project either way. “As a staff member, I am trying to remain impartial on political issues,” explaining that while a fireplace might not normally be political, in Carbondale it seems to be just that, as a consequence of the Thompson Divide gas-drilling controversy.
For some, though, it’s a matter of comfort and relaxation, she continued.
“Some people like sitting next to a fireplace, reading,” Roache noted in a telephone interview on Monday.
She also pointed out that the cast iron enclosure is designed to match a “community room gate,” also crafted by Hoffmann.
“So, from a local artistic point of view, I’m very excited,” she said.
Garfield County Libraries’ Director Amelia Shelley on Monday said in part in an e-mail to The Sopris Sun, “Interestingly, we had people ask to have a fireplace at the Carbondale Library during last summer’s community meeting.”
But some citizens strongly oppose the idea.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said long-time Carbondale resident Lee Beck, who attended several of the planning “charettes” held by the library district while the new library was being designed.
“It was a terrible idea when it first came up,” Beck continued.
One of her objections, she said, is that the fireplace “is not for heat, it’s really for ambiance,” a description she said was talked about by library staff when questioned during the final charette.
In addition, she said, she is suspicious about the fact that the plans for a fireplace have been resumed without any discussion with the people of Carbondale.
“I think, although I don’t have any way to prove it, that they were just trying to put it over on everybody,” she maintained.
But her main objection, she said, relates to the conflict between the installation of a fireplace and town’s stand against natural gas drilling in Thompson Divide.
“How hypocritical is it to spend public funds to burn more natural gas?” she asked. “It just doesn’t seem logical to me. Why are we spending money on a fireplace, when we could spend the money on books, or programs?”
She expressed the hope that the library district would not move ahead with the installation before having a full discussion with Carbondale citizens, at a meeting in Carbondale rather than Parachute or some other remote location.
“It’s a lot of gas to get there,” she said of the meeting in Parachute, which is about 50 miles from Carbondale, “and that’s another waste of energy.”
Shelley, however, wrote in an e-mail to The Sopris Sun, sent on Tuesday evening, that “the Board won’t wait until August for people to come to a meeting that is at a more convenient distance to speak to them (the board) about their concerns.”