KCLS, community to work together on library remodel

Neighbors, the city and KCLS may have reached some consensus in the library remodel discussion, if only on the need for more community input.

KCLS continued talks Friday in a closed-door meeting with city staff. The following morning, Saturday, Feb. 15, councilmembers Dan Grausz, Benson Wong and Debbie Bertlin met with Islanders to share insight gleaned during Friday’s session. Also in attendance were Julie Brand, who is serving as interim director of KCLS after Bill Ptacek’s departure, Greg Smith, director of facilities management services and several KCLS board members.

Part of Saturday’s meeting focused on the community input process. One such idea suggested circulating a survey among library users asking them to identify favorite features and top issues. KCLS staff have asked the city to present a list of possible members, for a committee likely not to exceed ten spots. The key says Grausz, will be in selecting a group representative of the library user demographic—ranging from parents with kids, to high school students and seniors.

“We’ll work with the representative panel to discuss and better understand their issues,” said Brand, “and conversely for them to understand what has to be done to the building as part of the remodel.”

Islanders also asked for a three month delay to allow for more community input. Brand noted that a longer wait could leave more room for costs to change, but said KCLS wanted to make sure it addresses community concerns. Three months, she said, was reasonable, though she hoped it wouldn’t take the full 90 days.

The Renton library is undergoing a remodel process that also drew heated meetings between KCLS staff and neighbors, who claimed their needs and concerns were not being communicated into final design. The library, considered by some a historic landmark, is built over the Cedar River and many argued that the character of the space would be lost to the remodel. After initial plans to raze it and move it to a new site altogether were vetoed, architecture firm Miller Hull, the same one as is renovating Mercer Island’s library, proposed moving the entrance from its location over the river. Many library users were outraged, claiming the entrance, from which they could sometimes see spawning salmon, held personal significance to the city.

“I can tell you, from KCLS’s perspective we’re very excited to gain further input,” reassured Brand, “and to go in with open ears about what is important to the community and where we can possibly flex.”

In January, Grausz wrote a letter to the KCLS Board on behalf of council, asking that the Mercer Island remodel better take into account community concerns. He also drew attention to the evolving price tag of the remodel, which is being funded by a 2004 bond. The library was originally slated to receive $730,000, a number that later increased to $1.6 million and again to $3.4 million in January.

“If they want to spend $3.4 million and we can all agree on what they spend it on, that’s their prerogative,” said Grausz. “The concern is not, in my mind, the $3.4 million, but spending it on what the community wants.”

Brand attributed the changes to inflation. The original projection was planned in a 2004 bond estimate. In today’s dollars that amounts to $1.6 million, she said, though that number was later supplemented by $1.8 million, money added once KCLS took a closer look at codes and building needs. The extra dollars will come from the KCLS general fund and the finished Federal Way library, which came in under budget.

“That $3.4 million was to be able to accomplish the things to do a remodel for many decades to come,” said Brand. “We’re building for the future.”

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