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Oak Harbor Library checks out sites

Should a spacious new Oak Harbor library be downtown or in the park next to the senior center? Or how about expanding the current facility so all the books and computers fit?

The Oak Harbor City Council decided to help the library answer these questions by finding the best possible spot for a new or improved building. The members voted Tuesday to kick in 40 percent of a $18,000 site selection study. That amounts to $7,200 from the council reserve fund, while Sno-Isle Regional Library will pay the remaining $10,800.

Councilman Bob Morrison spoke in approval of helping out with the funding. “As a library user,” he said, “I’m not sure the library meets standards for handicapped folks . . . it’s very crowded in the library and it definitely needs to be approved.”

Local resident Rick Almberg, however, asked the council to “hold onto (their) wallets” and not fund the study quite yet. He said he’s trying to work out a joint venture with the library and a proposed performing arts center. He said the council should wait to see if voters approve the creation of a library capital facilities district and an increase in property tax to fund construction before funding the study.

“You might just be giving money away,” he said.

Becky Bolte, island regional library manager, said the library board wants to decide where the new library will be and how much it will cost before going to the voters. The library architect consultant will study four or five potential sites to see if the sites are feasible — if there’s enough parking and so on — and come up with a cost figure for each.

Bolte said the sites will likely include the current ballfield next to the senior center, a couple of sites downtown and expansion of the current library building, which is connected to Skagit Volley College. A local group called Harbor Pride brought a team of architects from around the nation to study the city a couple of years ago. They recommended building the library downtown to help draw people to the downtrodden area.

The library board preliminary proposal called for a 30,000 to 35,000 square foot building at a cost of $8 to $10 million. The current, 10-year-old library facility is 11,500 square feet.

Once a site is chosen, a library capital facilities district would need to be created through a ballot measure. Bolte said the district would be the same as the school district boundary, which is roughly from Libbey Road to Deception Pass. If creation of a district is passed by voters, the next step would be to ask voters to pay for construction through a property tax levy.

Bolte said the library hopes to put the measures on the ballot at the end of 2003. The measures could be on the same ballot or two different.

Bolte also said the library leaders are hoping to get input from residents on possible sites for a new building. Folks can talk to her, library board chairperson Kathleen Shaw or head librarian Mary Campbell. The library can be reached at 675-5115.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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