Saying that the existing Mercer Island library works well, King County Library System (KCLS) planners told about 50 Islanders last Thursday night that the remodeling set for the library this fall will make it even better.
KCLS staff told attendees first that the improvements would not include increasing the size of the library’s ‘footprint.’ All of the changes will happen inside the building.
Offering suggestions on everything from enlarging bathrooms for diaper changing to speeding up Internet connections, Islanders were cautiously optimistic that their beloved library will retain its inviting feel.
KCLS officials and an architect from Miller Hull Partnership came to show Islanders their preliminary plans for the library and to listen carefully to what patrons had to say.
The renovation is funded by a portion of the $172 million bond issue passed by King County voters in 2003. Bond proceeds are being used to modernize and expand the existing county library system across the board. KCLS, listed as the busiest in the nation in 2010, has completed work in 30 libraries in the county so far: 11 new libraries have opened, 10 libraries have been expanded and seven libraries have been renovated.
According to KCLS project manager Greg Smith, $1.6 million has been set aside for changes to the Island library that sits across the street from Rotary Park.
The project will include reconfiguring the interior layout as well as replacing or refurbishing the space with carpet, paint, furniture, shelving and adding quiet study areas.
Ruth Baleiko of Miller Hull said that with the help of library staff and the community, they have identified three major goals for the project.
The first is to reconfigure the space to make it flow better and to optimize the existing space and outdoor views and natural light, she explained. Part of that goal will be to open up the meeting room, which now must be locked when it is not in use.
Next, planners want to improve the acoustics throughout the library to ensure that patrons can find quiet spaces even if other activities are taking place. Finally, planners and designers will upgrade and rearrange lighting fixtures and new windows will be added.
“A lot of here is in great shape,” Baleiko said. “We want to retain what is working well, but it is time for an update.”
The idea is to take the space and make it perform better, she said.
The meeting was attended by at least a dozen members of the Friends of the Library. Lenore Defliese, the current president of the Friends, said that she was excited by the prospect of some needed changes and better functionality at the library. She, like others, however, does not want an industrial feel to the space.
“One of the beauties of the library is its use of wood throughout and the skylight and windows,” she said.
She was most encouraged by the idea to have a way to open up the multipurpose room space with a movable glass wall so that it can be closed off as needed for meetings or other uses — but still be visible to staff and allow as much light as possible throughout the building.
Defliese said that it was important to the Friends, who donate $25,000 each year to the library, to retain a space to sort and store donated books. She said they also hope that a new way to display books for sale will be part of the plans to encourage patrons to buy used books.
Architects and planners first evaluated the space by looking for ways to see what worked and what could be improved. In doing so, they did not want to change the overall feel of the building or change the existing structural integrity of the building.
They are also looking at how the space function should meet the needs of both patrons and staff, particularly in light of the changing ways that patrons use libraries.
Other ideas presented included shrinking the area now used for the entry to enlarge the main library space, having small quiet spaces enclosed with glass and moving the children’s area into the multipurpose space with new windows facing south.
Questions from the group ranged from why such a renovation was even taking place when they felt the library is fine as it is. Another patron hoped that the awkward book drop would be addressed.
Smith noted that the group was very attentive and courteous. There has been controversy in some communities facing changes to their local libraries.
There was a lot of positive feedback, he said.
The library will be closed for eight months, Smith said. KCLS is looking for about 800 to 1,000 square feet to lease for that time on the Island. It will mostly be for picking up books, he said. They are hoping to find space that is close to the existing building.