WILLOW — The most popular community center in the Mat-Su Borough is getting a new look.
Early this month, Mat-Su Borough Mayor Vern Halter and Mat-Su Borough officials broke ground on a new Willow Library and the old library building was demolished. The library was initially a small addition to the Willow Community Center which has seen demand outgrow the space it currently operates in.
Each spring, thousands of Iditarod mushers, spectators and dogs flock to the Willow Community Center for the Iditarod restart in Willow. While the library will not be finished in time for the 2021 Iditarod, Halter hopes that Roger Hickel Contracting can be done with the new library by the winter of 2021.
“Working on a bigger library, a better library, a more spacious library has been a community goal for a long time,” said Halter.
Halter was pleased to see the project get underway after major upgrades to the Talkeetna library and the Sutton library have already been completed. The finished product will be 6,500 square-feet and service the growing community of Willow. Amidst the global pandemic, the Willow library has still been a place for residents to gather for interaction, learning, or just to read.
“Covid’s kind of thrown a wrench in it but we have story time and summer reading programs and computer classes and book clubs you know just a place for the teens to hang out after school,” said Willow librarian Julie Mitchell. “I think one of the things is that Willow often feels overlooked, that Willow is not the part of the borough that gets paid attention to except during Iditarod and so this is just a reminder that the community is important and that the resources they need and the place to meet with their friends or to meet people when they’re needing to exchange information or stuff of people drop off things for each other here all the time. There isn’t a normal place in Willow really where anyone and everyone can come into.”
Mitchell has served as a librarian in Willow for a decade and said that the new library will have their own bathrooms instead of having to share bathrooms with the community center, a section dedicated to teen engagement and more space for both books and people.
“The new library and the community center upgrades will ensure that the building that has been at the heart of Willow activities for almost 40 years will continue to serve our growing community for generations to come,” said Mat-Su Borough Assemblywoman Tam Boeve.
Halter recalled legendary budget hearings at the Willow community center with over 200 residents packing the small building that has been crucial to the Valley in recent years. Last summer, firefighters battling the McKinley fire used the Willow Community Center as a base of operations beyond the southern edge of the fire.
The building is expected to cost approximately $6.2 million and follows recent library renovations in Talkeetna and Sutton. Halter offered his thanks to the Mat-Su Health Foundation for their $1.9 million grant that allowed the project to begin.
“It’s just going to be a lot larger spacious library and you got the one in Talkeetna and you’ve got the one in Sutton and of course the one in Wasilla is complete now,” said Halter. “This will be a nice sized thing and I think it will be something 30, 40, 50 years into the future people can be proud of.”