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"County, lawyers lock horns over law library"

"Most Island County residents may not be aware that the county has a library of law books open to the public. But the seemingly innocuous room of hefty books has recently become the center of controversy within the county's new law and justice building.The Island County Law Library board of volunteer trustees recently sent a letter to the Island County commissioners demanding more space for the library inside the new law and justice building next to the county courthouse in Coupeville. They demand that the 480-square-foot building be increased to a minimum 850 square feet.If the commissioners refuse the demand, board members say they have already voted to sue the county commissioners. The letter states that the commissioners have until July 25 to accommodate the demand.Law library board members include Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill and North Whidbey attorneys Lynn Hicks, Christon Skinner and Dale Roundy. County Commissioner Bill Thorn is also a member, but he says he was definitely not in favor of the demand letter.The problem, the letter states, is that the county commissioners reduced the original size of the library twice - from 894 square feet to 487 square feet - without any comments from the board. Both times the space went to the county prosecutor's office to accommodate increases in staffing.Most recently, the commissioners gave the new law librarian's small office to a newly hired deputy prosecutor, forcing the librarian to set up a desk in the middle of the library.On May 9, 2001, the board of trustees of the Island County Law Library met and determined that the existing space allocated to the law library is inadequate and not suitable, the letter states.On the other side, several Island County officials are outraged by the demand letter.It's disturbing, Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said. It's never good to have elected officials suing each other.This is nonsense, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said. This is the best law library the county has ever had by a long shot.It's a bad idea for one part of the county to be threatening another, Thorn said.Churchill, Skinner and Hicks were on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Roundy didn't return calls.McDowell pointed out that the former dark and dank law library in the old courthouse was only about 305 square feet. He says the new library is a quantum leap over the new.McDowell admits that the library board wasn't consulted about the decrease in space, but he says it was the commissioners' job to make the hard choices about space in the new building. They simply decided in favor of the prosecutor's office.I felt the current employees have a right to be housed adequately in the appropriate building, McDowell said.Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks argues that the new law library, with the diminished space, is still more than adequate. He said his staff members shelved all the law books to prove to the library board that there's plenty of space in the library for books, as well as two computers and a desk for the part-time librarian.There are about a half-dozen empty shelves in the law library. But Law Librarian Bonne Kelly said the space is needed for future volumes of law books. Yet the controversy over the new law and justice building hasn't been confined to just the law library. McDowell admits that there's a list of more than 250 problems with the new building, including such things as out-of-reach panic alarms, judges' benches that are too tall, and an entrance to the underground garage that's too small for the police van to fit through.McDowell said the county is working on fixing the problems one at a time, adding that the number of complaints is typical for a $5 million project.Yet some county officials are upset that space in the new building is so tight. There simply isn't room for new employees in many departments or a new judge. The Sheriff's Office, for example, actually lost space in the move to the new building. In the demand letter, the law library board suggests that the commissioners implement the building project's second phase to accommodate space needs.McDowell explained that the building was designed so expansion of the second floor - phase two construction - would be simple. But he said the county won't have capital facilities funds available to expand for about eight years. The county is in the midst of a campus-wide remodeling project in Coupeville.We have a fixed dollar amount, said McDowell. We can only do so much.You can reach features editor Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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