Community Center Celebrates 10 Years
“We can never fully thank all those who contributed so willingly…”
– Former Task Force member, Diana Livingston
By P.M. Fadden
Residents of Southcentral Alaska’s Turnagain Arm gather this month to celebrate a civic, social milestone.
The Girdwood Community Center, a setting to private or public sector functions as well as a seat to localized leadership, marks its ten-year anniversary with a free, celebratory BBQ, from 12-2 p.m., Saturday May 19.
The Community Center, according to current librarian Claire Agni, is home to the Scott and Wesley Gerrish Library and open five days a week, providing free internet, computers or laptops, board games, and extensive media resources.
“We’re a small community library that’s part of the Anchorage Public Library,” Agni said. “Because of that we’re connected to 65 percent of Alaska, and growing.”
In conjunction with Gerrish Library proper, the window-lit 1,000 square foot community room space features vaulted ceilings, kitchenette and accessories to include digital displays, drop screen, podium, floor mats, coat rack, ninety stackable chairs and fourteen tables with public lavatory only steps away.
“[The Center] is constantly in use by members of the Girdwood community, by outside renters and by the library, so there’s always something fun or educational happening,” Agni said.
But how Girdwood’s Community Center came to that current, amiable form is a further spanning story.
Ruth Kirsher, previous librarian at Girdwood, denotes 1949 as historical springboard for a “Community Club” with stated aim of raising funds to erect a school building at Old Girdwood Townsite. That effort, buffeted initially by challenges of staffing and student population—not to mention a history shattering earthquake—would ultimately play a role in City Hall, Little Bears Schoolhouse, Fire Department and Gerrish Branch Library being built on Egloff Dr.
Today, decades and generations removed from those first developmental moves, the current Community Center is no less a modern-day reflection of those that came before.
“Building a library and community center for Girdwood started in 2004, but had its beginnings ten years earlier when the fire station was built,” stated former community center and library task force member, Diana Livingston. “The plan was to build a library and community meeting room with offices adjacent to the fire station.”
“The plans were 95 percent complete when financing raised its head. The library and community center portion of the project was cancelled.”
Livingston was one of a six member task force comprising Lynn MacNamara, former librarian Denise Dargan, Brooks Chandler, Kate Fariday and Julie Doepken appointed by then Girdwood Board of Supervisors to investigate non-bonded funding avenues toward a new library at Girdwood.
“The task force began meeting October of 2004,” Livingston said. “And thus began a complete grass roots success story.”
Utilizing the original 1994 plans as conceptual springboard, the task force updated a proposal to include two community offices, one meeting room and library.
With fundraising assistance in mind, state and municipality bodies were approached and it was from a municipality starting point that the burgeoning initiative progressed to state level.
“The State of Alaska, largely with the support of Representative Mike Hawker, ultimately, funded the project with $2.5 million dollars,” Livingston said. “The municipality agreed to provide the land for the building, and Senator Ted Stevens brought in funding from The Denali Commission.”
Livingston also cited much valued sources for home grown fiscal support.
Iconic Forest Fair featured a dunk tank and root beer garden, local artisans donated works for auction, personalized ‘book spines’ were sold at Christmas Bazaar—a collection displayed to this day in the library entrance—and the so-called “ugly mug” made many an appearance.
Spanning years 2004 thru 2006, a substantial sum of funds would be raised.
Girdwood residents committed $1 million dollars to be contributed over five years and Rasmuson Foundation bestowed an additional half-million upon finalization costs. Meanwhile, private donation, combined with fundraising, produced an impressive $200,000 more project dollars. An eager stage of contract allotment soon followed, and construction began with a now historic 2007 groundbreaking on May 29.
Then library and municipality staffers, already working from respective Girdwood School and Fire Hall buildings, prepared themselves for transition to the new location.
Less than one year later, Turnagain Arm rejoiced at a May 8 grand opening of today’s Girdwood Community Center, a date which Livingston referred to as, a triumph of local determination, leadership, congressional delegation and Anchorage Municipality as well as State of Alaska support.
“Since opening, the library and community center have become the heart of Girdwood,” Livingston said. “We can never fully thank all those who contributed so willingly their time, their treasure and their determination.”
A decade later, Scott and Wesley Gerrish Library and the Community Room strive for to meet and exceed the educational and wellness needs of the public they serve, with a respectful acknowledgement of efforts that came before.