Willow is an eclectic community where many people live off the grid. The library is a place they can all come together.

“They fly in from Skwentna, come from off the road, out past Deshka, this is the town center,” said librarian Julie Mitchell.

She said the jam-packed shelves have served the community well over past decades. But, Mitchell said the books are shelved too low for seniors to reach and too high for children; the library is running out of room.

“This is our most used section, which is the videos. We're outgrowing it and don't have anywhere to expand, so that would be nice to have some more space,” Mitchell said as she pointed to the several thousand DVDs.

Renovation plans are in the works to expand the facility. They would demolish the current building, which is about 3,000 square feet, then rebuild a library twice the size. There will be separate areas for kids, teens and adults as well as a large meeting area.

The $5.6 million project also includes improvements to the adjoining community center—a new sprinkler system, replaced siding on the building and upgraded bathrooms.

“It's a huge project. In the past, for other projects like Sutton and Talkeetna, the state paid for half, and that is not possible now with the state of the economy,” Mitchell explained. 

That’s why Willow Library Association members are especially grateful to the Mat-Su Health Foundation for a $1.7 million grant that will fund a third of the project.

“I think it's an opportunity for people to grow and expand their knowledge base to learn; I envision classrooms coming into our new meeting space which will be able to house 30 people,” said Melinda Dale, adding she’d like to see art classes and community meetings use the new space.

Dale said the library provides a place where people not only use the free WiFi but also expand their minds.

“Especially when you live in a place like Willow, we're fairly isolated even though we're on the road system. You need to have that hub in your community, and I really think this building is the heart of our community,” Dale said.

Mitchell said the staff has about 30 months to fundraise the rest of the money for the project. They hope to begin construction by 2020.

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