Trustees will ask Bellingham for $5.1M to buy site for new library

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 7, 2014 

Bellingham Public Library

Carl Oekernan and daughter Allison Kaneshige, 12, check out books April 11, 2011, at the Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Ave.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Bellingham could purchase a site for construction of a new central library building as early as next year if the mayor's office and City Council approve more than $5 million in funding for the library's 2015 capital budget.

In an update to a council committee Monday, July 7, members of the Library Board of Trustees said the library will ask for $5.1 million to acquire a site to build the new library, if such a site is approved next year.

"It's a ballpark figure, not yet knowing which site we might be pursuing," said Pam Kiesner, library director, in an interview. "Ideally, it would be under that, but it's a ballpark placeholder number."

The library's 2015 budget proposal, which has been submitted to the mayor's office, also calls for $51,000 to update the current library plan, which was completed in 2008 and doesn't take recent technological advances into account.

"There's a lot of good information in (the plan), but in light of an awful lot of changes that have happened, we need to look at it again," Kiesner said in an interview. "E-books were not even on the horizon when we were planning."

Planning for the central library branch update started more than a decade ago. After years of looking at sites, conducting community surveys and other preparations, the board recommended to the 2007 council that the current building at 210 Central Ave. be demolished and the city build a new one on the same site. The then-council approved the idea unanimously.

Then the economy took a nosedive and the project stalled.

Now that the library plan is almost seven years old, the board is calling for an update, Kiesner said.

The 2008 plan called for a larger library to meet the city's needs, replacing the current facility of more than 44,000 square feet with a 77,728-square-foot building.

The board is now looking at different options. One possible scenario is to build the library at a new location, remodel the current building, and potentially move the municipal court there from its current facility at 2014 C St.

City staff will take an independent look at 25 sites being considered for the library, including city-owned property, and help determine what meets the city's and the community's criteria for a new building.

As for the updated plan, a consultant could help look at what a new library's best uses would be.

"Many contemporary libraries are building spaces differently, not necessarily smaller," Kiesner said. "Communities want different kinds of spaces. ... We may not have as much print, but we may have more technology."

Changing technology also could ease the workload of the library's reduced staff, allowing them to provide more services to the community, or work more with the early learning movement, said Faye Hill, library board chair.

"We need to take a look at the whole program and rethink and re-envision what the library of the future is going to be like," Kiesner said.

The board also suggested the assembly of a Library Working Group, made up of council members, planning personnel and other community members, as the process moves forward.

Mayor Kelli Linville will present her proposal for the city's 2015 budget to council later this year.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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