Plans for new library haven't been shelved

"It's no surprise that the people who run the Oak Harbor Library are doing a lot of reading and studying of plans to build a big, new home for all the books and computers.While actual construction is probably years off, the members of the library board have an idea about how large the building will need to be, though questions about location will probably not be answered any time soon.The idea of building a new library has been on local librarians minds for years - especially when they have to turn away patrons from the Internet or try to crowd youngsters into the tiny children's area - but it became a public discussion last summer when library leaders met with Mayor Patty Cohen to discuss the possibilities.Since then, Library Board Chairperson Kathleen Shaw said the board members have created a preliminary building draft in order to get an idea about the size and shape of a new library.She said the experience was a a real eye-opener for some board members who learned about the behind-the-scene operation of a library and the sheer space needs. After all, an average of 741 people visit the library each day. Managing Librarian Becky Bolte said the Oak Harbor library - which is part of the Sno-Isle Regional Library System - is also the regional reference center for the island, which means the building has more reference materials and more employees.We're not just serving North Whidbey, we're serving all the libraries on the island, Bolte said.They also looked at projections for community needs in the future, particularly technology-related needs. We don't want to build for five years down the road, Shaw said. Hopefully we'll build for 30 years down the road.The conclusion, Shaw said, is that a new library will have to be pretty big. At least 25,000 square feet, or ideally 30,000, she said.The current library, located within the Skagit Valley College campus on Regatta Drive, is only 12,203 square feet, including a large meeting room and reading room space shared with the college.Last fall, a team of architects came to Oak Harbor for the Blueprint for Change event. After meeting with community members and analyzing the city, the team recommended that the community build a new library downtown at the corner of Pioneer Way and Dock Street. They pointed out that the library could help revive the area by drawing a large number of people downtown on a regular basis.Unfortunately, Shaw said there may be a parking shortage at that site. But she says there are many possibilities out there.Sometimes things come out of the woodwork when you make your needs known, she said.The next step for the library board, Shaw said, is to start a campaign to educate the public about the needs and gather input from the community. The board and librarians recently put together the first of three fliers on Oak Harbor Library facts, which asks the question, Does Oak Harbor need a new library?Bolte said the fliers will be passed out to library patrons and will be available in public places all over the city.In addition, Bolte said the library hopes to do a regular survey of North Whidbey residents in the near future to see if there's wide-spread support for a new library, and if so, what people would like to see in the new building.I haven't heard any opposition yet, Shaw said, but that needs to be listened to and addresses.In fact, a new library can't be built without strong public support. To fund the construction, Bolte said the residents of North Whidbey would first have to approve a library capital facilities area. If that passes, a super-majority of voters within the area would have to approve a property tax increase to fund the capital project.If the plans go forward in their current shape, Bolte said residents might get a chance to vote on a new library at the end of 2002. "

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