This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

March 10, 1999 - Highlands Ranch Library - Half-full?

Pour water into a glass until there is as much glass above the water line as below. An optimist tells you it's half full. A pessimist says, "Half empty." Only the engineer gets it right: "This glass is improperly sized."

There's a lesson here for the management of our expectations.

Back in 1996, the library district planned to build a (roughly) 40,000 square foot building in Highlands Ranch by the year 2000. But based on financial projections, we thought we'd only be able to "finish" 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of it.

The investment in the larger building shell, however, would allow us to expand into the space later. This building, like all our library branches, will be built with hard-saved cash, not public debt. We can build only when we have the money. It's easier to add interior space than exterior.

As we went through our very extensive public input process for the library, it became clear that public expectations were very high. As the first building in the new Town Center, the library would set some design standards. The public wanted those standards to be high.

As we worked with our architects, the library team began to get very excited about the possibilities. An early draft of the design showed extensive use of Douglas County rhyolite -- a nice tie to the past, even as we built for the future.

The more we worked on the vision of the building, the more real it became to me. We planned to build 42,000 square feet, with twice as many parking spaces as county guidelines called for. This maximizes the 3.4 acre site donated by Shea Homes. (Thank you, Shea Homes!) Meanwhile, we worked closely with the Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District, whose own fine design for the neighboring Civic Green was taking shape. (And thank you, HRMD, whose staff has the same keen interest in citizen ideas that we do.)

Then, alas, constructions estimates began to come in. The rhyolite -- at least on the exterior of our library -- was the first thing to go. We replaced it with a redder structural brick, echoing the sandstone which marks the entrance to the modern Highlands Ranch.

But we preserved the silhouettes of the building, the depth of finishes -- one of the more obvious ways we hoped to distinguish our civic structure from the scourge of big box architecture.

The more numbers that came in, the more we realized that our original projections were correct. There simply was no way for us to finish both floors of the building within our budget.

By this point, I was definitely a pessimist. To me, the building was suddenly half-empty (actually 24,000 square feet of 42,000). Or to put it another way, in my mind, I was already living in the whole building. Then I got evicted from the second floor. It was hard to be happy.

But the more I've thought about it, the more optimistic I've become. This is a tight construction market. By putting the money toward the exterior and the first floor interior finishes, we will be able to build a library we can all respect.

On opening day, the new library will be three times larger than it is right now. The unfinished space gives us the opportunity to expand thoughtfully, based on solid revenues and a better understanding of how the community will use the -- half-full! -- new building.

Then again, I realize that the engineer perspective is right. The building will be neither half-empty nor half-empty. It will be sized correctly, given the "water" we have now, and expect to have in the near future.

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