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Library may look to relocate

"There's not enough space at the Oak Harbor Library for any more books or reference material. Patrons have a hard time finding parking during the school year. Programs for children are sometimes overcrowded.Is the answer a new, larger library in Oak Harbor? Managing Librarian Becky Bolte said the Oak Harbor library board members decided during a recent meeting to move forward with a building program and start looking at whether the city needs a new library - and if so, where it should be.The library board, which is appointed by the city mayor and council, met with Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen last week to discuss the space issue and the idea of either building a new library or expanding the existing building.The current library is located within the Skagit Valley College facilities near the Seaplane Base on Regatta Drive. The college and city built the facility as part of a unique cooperative venture in 1992. The city owns the library space and contracts with the college for maintenance.The library is run by the Sno-Isle Regional Library in the 11,000 square-foot facility provided by the city.Bolte said space has gotten tight in the last eight years - mainly due to the sheer popularity of the city library. She said between 600 and 800 people visit the library each day. Last year, a total of 360,000 books, videos and audio tapes were checked out to the community.We're pretty tight with space, Bolte said. We have to be very creative.She said the staff recently stretched the space to the limit with a new and very popular career center, complete with reference materials. At this point, she said the library is maxed out on space for books and has inadequate reading areas.Anyone who's gone online at the library knows how popular and overused the computers are, and that there's simply no space for more computers.In addition, Bolte said the library simply doesn't have the space to accommodate all the children interested in children's programs. During the kick-off event for the summer reading program, she said over 500 people attended, which had to be divided into three separate sessions.Library board members will look at a number of options, Bolte said, including an expansion of the existing library space or moving to a new, larger space. She said the existing building was built so that it could be expanded to the east someday.On the other hand, the city could probably sell the library facility to Skagit Valley College.Mick Donahue, the vice president of the college's Whidbey campus, said the college has interest in eventually securing the space. In fact, he said the college and the city have an informal agreement that if the library was ever to move, the college would attempt to purchase the facility at market value.We only have nine acres, he said. We're very limited in what we can do.But to move the library would mean building a new facility, and that would mean a lot of bucks. Bolte said she would like to see a 25,000 to 30,000 square-foot building for a new library.To build the facility, Bolte said the library board could use a new law to create a library facilities district on North Whidbey, so that residents of the entire north end of the island - instead of just Oak Harbor - would share in the building cost. But voters would have to approve the measure in an election.After that, the voters would have to approve a bond issue to finance the construction.While the plans for the library are all very preliminary, Bolte said there are a lot of ideas for the location of a new library being tossed around. The location, she said, should be centrally located in North Whidbey and should have adequate parking.One idea is to build a new library downtown. Since the library is a big draw, Bolte said it could help revitalize the city's downtown area simply by bringing large numbers of people downtown. Whatever the library board decides, Bolte said residents won't see anything library-related on the ballot for at least a year."

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