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Library users still unhappy with plans

Though the public meetings and council testimonials have tapered off, concerned Mercer Island residents are still fighting for a library remodel they hope will align with their interests and vision. Invested citizens say community input has been at the library’s core since its construction in 1991.

“This is our library. We hired the architects and designed the library based on what the community wanted,” says Meg Lippert, a member of a Concerned Citizen’s Committee that grew out of resident frustrations. “We love our library.”

Lippert doesn’t represent everyone’s wishes for the space but in January, neighbors rallied around their frustrations after a meeting led by KCLS staff and architecture firm, Miller Hull, revealed design features many took issue with – lighter wood finishing, sleek, modern furniture and a layout they worried would leave little room for the library’s primary function – quiet reading. It was change for the sake of it, accused some.

After hearing residents’ testimonies, Council presented a letter to KCLS, requesting an extension and an avenue for more community input. Out of those ashes grew the City Library Committee, a group of ten appointed to represent the full range of library users – teens, tutors, Council liaisons and community fixtures like former mayor Bryan Cairns. The group met with KCLS staff to identify their top design grievances.

Around the same time, the Concerned Citizen’s Committee assembled to include other voices worried about the remodel. Many still feel they’re not being heard.

“KCLS has been really unresponsive to the community,” says Lippert, a member of that second ad hoc group. “The plans came back and they haven’t addressed our concerns.”

Lippert points to Renton’s library project, where the neighborhood vocally opposed KCLS plans they claimed didn’t represent city character. The issue is all the more personal for many library users because of the history of this particular Island landmark. The library was built by Islanders in 1991 and furnished by local talent. It wasn’t until later that it was incorporated into the KCLS system.

Lippert says that when Mercer Island agreed to become a part of the library system in – it was voted down the first time – part of the arrangement was the promise of countywide benefits. Islanders were also told a committee with three city council members serving as liaisons would counteract some of that KCLS shift of power. Over the years that promise faded as other city issues took precedence.

Plans for the space differ widely, but the Concerned Citizen’s Commitee is pushing a “Plan B,” devised by Islander Bart Dawson. Under its direction there would be two small study rooms, greater visibility into the teen area and a meeting room that isn’t glass encased and in the center of the library. The committee is also firmly petitioning for a shorter closure period for the library or comparable facilities to use during construction. (The full “Plan B” can be seen at libraryremodel.org.)

“We don’t want an open library,” says Lippert, who over the last couple of months has even visited neighboring facilities to determine how design came together. “We want a library where we can read and work and study.”

Last week KCLS also presented its “scheme one” design, featuring a glassed in meeting room in the center, two small study rooms and a children’s collection in the corner. A “scheme two” design makes use of only one study room. KCLS staff technically gave Islanders the 90 days they asked for, but Lippert says that time hasn’t been fruitful, as evidenced by two schemes the community can’t agree on.

Lippert also points out that though the remodel is arguably an aesthetic improvement, it doesn’t update services or expand its collection. In fact, the collection has actually shrunk over the last few years.

She personally believes the money assigned to the Island remodel could be better spent elsewhere. Financed by a 2004 bond, $3.4 million has been set aside for the project.

“When it comes to protecting the library, our feeling is that we should have some voice,” says Lippert. “The question is it a strong enough voice and is the city prepared to stand up against KCLS and say…‘back to the drawing board.’”

 

For more about the Concerned Citizen’s Committee and meeting minutes, visit: libraryremodel.org. For information about the KCLS Board of Trustees, visit: www.kcls.org/about/board/.

 

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