$2.5 million Conifer Library budget increase may remove public library from high school

Community demand for increased library hours seeks to create a free-standing public library


Maya Dawson

The Conifer Library opens to the public at 3pm on weekdays, 20 minutes after the school day ends. Next year, however, class will end an hour later, further reducing public access to the library. “The high school time change is an opportunity to reevaluate what the Conifer branch looks like, and so that has shifted the timeline,” Jeffco Library Board Chair Kim Johnson said.

The Jefferson County Public Library has shared its resources and space with Conifer High School for almost three decades, but that could soon change. 


The Library Board of Trustees will decide whether to move the library out of the high school in the coming months – a plan community members said would expand public access as CHS will start and end classes later next year.  The library is closed to the public during the school day. 


“The high school time change is an opportunity to re-evaluate what the Conifer branch looks like,” said Kim Johnson, the chair of the Jeffco Library Board of Trustees.


JCPL has not yet decided whether it will move the library, but it has designated $2.5 million that could be used to buy or rent a space for a stand-alone location, according to the May 19 board meeting minutes. 


The trustees’ decision will be partially based on feedback received at upcoming community meetings at the Conifer Library Saturday, May 13, from 10-11:00 a.m. and virtually on Monday, May 15, from 7-8:00 p.m.


Many Conifer students use the library to study during lunch or free periods. “This was a great partnership for 25 years. The community has grown. There are more needs, obviously. There’s more demand for a library. How can we make sure the school doesn’t suffer while the community also gets what it deserves?” Conifer Area Council Secretary Marilyn Saltzman said. (Maya Dawson)

At the head of the push for a free-standing public library is the Conifer Area Council (CAC), a nonprofit and nonpartisan community advocacy group that aims to express the needs of the Conifer community.  A 2021 survey they conducted found that 94% of community members supported moving the library from the school. Respondents cited the limited hours and activities offered at the current location. 


The review of the library’s location comes as the region has experienced population growth.  From 1990 to 2014 the Conifer and 285 corridor population, which is also served by the Conifer library, increased by almost 35%, according to US Census data.


“The community has grown; there are more needs, obviously,” said CAC secretary Marilyn Saltzman. “There’s more demand for a library.”


For Conifer students, removing the public library from the school may have consequences.


“It’s a really big plus to have that resource in our building and to have access not only to this library but to all the other Jeffco public libraries so kids can place holds. That just really doesn’t happen anywhere else,” Conifer Digital Teacher Librarian, Karen McIntosh said.


Between 400 and 500 students use the library daily during school hours, according to the gate count the school conducted this year.


The JCPL library has been located within the high school since the school opened in 1996, and is the only public library in Jeffco to do so.


The library has never had its own building. When the Conifer branch joined JCPL in 1954 it had a small space inside of the Little White Schoolhouse, three minutes from Conifer High School, according to the Conifer Historical Society. The library moved into the high school to have more space for books and community engagement, according to the Conifer Area Council.

Conifer Athletic Director Eric Kragel (right) builds a puzzle with students in the Conifer library during school hours when the space is closed to the public. “The space is used constantly,” high school Digital Teacher LIbrarian Karen Macintosh said. The school library regularly offers puzzles and craft activities to students who use the space during their free periods. (Leslie Thompson)

Every book currently in the Conifer Library belongs to JCPL, in addition to all but two of the library desktop computers. The high school and public librarians regularly collaborate to provide programs for students, such as a “speed dating” project several English classes at the high school participated in earlier this year where McIntosh worked with public librarians to reserve popular teen books from across the library sytem to create a lesson plan where students were able to sample a variety of books to find one they were interested in reading.


Even outside of class, CHS students view the library as an asset. 


“I mostly use [the library] when I want to study, and also when I have a free period,” CHS senior Ana Tena said. “I find it as a place to just come and chill and just relax for a little bit.”


After the school day ends and the library opens its doors to the public, some students use the space to wait for sports practice to begin while others meet with tutors or study groups. The public library has even collaborated with Conifer educators and students to host workshops and classes about things students are interested in. Last month, courtesy of student requests, the public library brought in a guest speaker to teach teens about credit scores and finances.


On April 12 Teen Librarian Kyler Wesner organized a paper flower craft event at the Conifer library, as requested by the Teen Advisory Board for the Evergreen and Conifer libraries, made up of Conifer and Evergreen High School students. (Maya Dawson)

“The main idea of our programs is to make [the library] more of a social place to interact,” said Kyler Wesner, the teen librarian coordinator for the Evergreen and Conifer libraries.


While the current library is convenient for Conifer students, it offers very few opportunities for families with young children. The neighboring Evergreen public library, which is a 15-minute drive from Conifer, offers daily events, storytelling, and opportunities for young children to interact with their peers. In contrast, the Conifer library offers only a 30-minute “family time” event on Saturdays.


“I can definitely see how there would be some frustration for people who want an actual public library,” said senior Nicholas Ditmore.


To make the library more accessible, JCPL offers a book drop-off container in the front circle of the school, as well as the option to pick up books on hold during the school day at the nearby Mountain Resource Center. This summer the library will also offer expanded hours during the day.


Punky Kiefer, former council board member, and current secretary Marilyn Saltzman have reached out to CHS administrators and library staff to minimize the harm removing the public library from the school would cause. 

As the Jeffco Library Board of Trustees decides whether or not to move the library out of the high school, they aim to consider the needs of the community. “The very first thing we do when we look at any capital project is to gather community input around the project, and so right now that’s really the only decision that’s been made, is that we’re going to hear from the Conifer community,” JCPL Board Chair Kim Johnson said. (Maya Dawson)

“I worked for Jeffco schools for 20 years. I was on the committee that passed the bond issue that built this high school… I really care about the school. I want to make it clear that it’s not an us against them type of thing,” Saltzman said.

More information about the May 13 in-person community meeting for the Conifer Library can be found here, and registration for the virtual meeting can be found here.