The Natrona County Public Library Foundation was hopeful when it purchased a roughly 5-acre plot of land in downtown Casper nine years ago. But plans to build a new library on the spot never panned out — and now the foundation has to decide what to do with the property.
Foundation members will discuss whether to keep or sell the land at the Natrona County Library Board’s Wednesday meeting, said Nathan McGregor, the library’s marketing and public relations manager.
“We love to hear from the community,” he said, adding that all county residents are welcome to attend the noon meeting in the library’s conference room.
The foundation recently received an offer for the land, which is located behind US Bank in downtown Casper, according to Beth Worthen, the foundation’s executive director.
Foundation members might reject the bid. The community still needs a new library, though there are no immediate plans in the works, Worthen said.
“The need for a new library is not going away,” she said.
McGregor agreed that a new facility has been sorely needed for years. The library — which receives about 1,100 visits per day — offers books, movies, a computer lab, a print center and a variety of educational activities and workshops.
“We are bursting at the seams,” he said, explaining that the county has grown significantly since the library was built in the 1970s. “We need more meeting rooms, more spaces for people to come and study or connect.”
But McGregor said the potential project never materialized due to the economic downturn. Voters also rejected tax measures in 2008 and 2012 that would have funded a new library.
Government agencies in Wyoming took a hard hit when energy prices sank a few years ago, as taxes on industry provide much of the state’s revenue. Many local governments, like Natrona County, have yet to fully recover.
The library is struggling with more than just a shortage of space. The building is now closed on Sundays due to budget cuts and understaffing.
“It’s certainly not the direction that we want to go, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Lisa Scroggins, the facility’s executive director, said last summer.
The library’s budget was cut by about 10 percent in 2016 and 2017, according to Scroggins. She said the county-wide hiring freeze also prevented the library from replacing departing staff members.
The director said her employees took on extra responsibilities for about two years without any complaints. But she eventually noticed that it was taking a toll.
Although the Natrona County Commissioners did not cut the library’s budget this year, Scroggins said she needed an additional $366,000 to hire more staff and keep the facility and its programs running on Sundays. Her request was ultimately denied.
Scroggins said she understands that commissioners are in a difficult position due to the economic downturn. But the director is hopeful that Sunday hours can return once the economy picks back up.
The library is beneficial to the community as a whole, she said.
“When you have an educated citizenry, the community dynamic completely changes,” she said.