View of the Natrona County Library and downtown Casper on Thursday afternoon. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Members of the Natrona County Board of County Commissioners voiced several reservations when approached by representatives of the Natrona County Public Library seeking funding for a new building.

In the board’s work session on Tuesday, library director Lisa Scroggins asked for $3.5 million from the county for a request for qualifications, and estimated a $31 million burden on the county for the total project.

“31 million is what we anticipate based on regional data collected on the construction of public facilities post-COVID,” Scroggins told Oil City News after the meeting. “We came up with a rough cost-per-square foot, and that’s what we anticipate the county needing to provide.”

However, members of the Board of Commissioners expressed concerns.

“I’m for a new library. I am not for putting the tax on the people,” Commissioner Dallas Laird said.

“It’s a really big ask, for $3.5 [million] right now today,” Commissioner Peter Nicolaysen added.

Commissioner Dave North agreed with Laird and Nicolaysen, adding that the timing of the request is less than ideal as the county is currently also in the process of building a new facility for the Natrona County Health Department and a new Nordic Lodge on Casper Mountain, as well as still feeling the financial hit from the 2022–23 winter, which made a significant impact on the Natrona County Road and Bridge Department.

Scroggins said she was disappointed by the commissioners’ reservations, though she understood them.

“This has a great impact on our plans moving forward,” she said. “We can’t even do an RFQ and design process if we don’t have the funding for that. There’s no point in investing $3.5 million for a design process that goes nowhere because we don’t have the funding to see the rest of the project through.”

In pleading her case, Scroggins told commissioners about many of the services offered by the library. In addition to several classes and programs hosted at the library, it also offers job training and helps people apply for jobs, provides notary services to the community, has a recording studio that the public can utilize and more, she said.

“We’re much more than just books,” Scroggins said. “Our statistics … all exceed the national average for a library of our size.”

According to recent data, the NCPL circulates more than 500,000 items annually and has had roughly 228,000 visitors thus far in 2023.

“We’re champions of the under-served population,” Scroggins said.

Scroggins also pointed to the dire structural problems with the current facility, including issues with its plumbing, electrical systems, HVAC system and more in recent years. She said the library recently had to invest in a new fire alarm after the system failed, and said a study done in recent years determined that the building had “critical failures.”

Scroggins said the library is in the process of applying for grant funding through the federal Treasury Department, which would help alleviate the financial burden on the local governments. She said the grant program — which is specifically open to public libraries — has $12.6 million available to award, and the NCPL is applying for the full amount available.

Scroggins said that though the library will be seeking all $12.6 million, she is expecting to be awarded around $10 million. The deadline for grant requests is in early October, and Scroggins said they expect to hear whether they were approved and how much they’ll be receiving in December.

“I think the need for a new library in Natrona County has been well-documented for decades,” she said. “I think our project has the greatest potential to impact the greatest number of people.”