Five library sites studied

A Seattle architectural firm will be looking into five potential sites for a new library in Oak Harbor, including one spot a city council member called “a dream location.”

Becky Bolte, island regional manager for Sno-Isle Regional Library System, unveiled the five spots, including expanding the current site, that members of the Oak Harbor library board picked for the architectural firm to evaluate.

Bolte said the firm will consider the costs, pros and cons of each site and report back, likely in February. The $18,000 study will be funded by $7,200 from the city council’s reserve fund and $10,800 from Sno-Isle Regional Library.

The library board preliminary proposal called for a 30,000- to to 35,000-square foot building at a cost of $8 million to $10 million. The current, 10-year-old library is a crowded 11,200 square feet.

Three of the potential new sites are in the downtown, Pioneer Way area, while the other is on school district land next to the municipal pool on SE Jerome Street.

Perhaps the most exciting of the ideas — what Council member Sheilah Crider called “a dream location” — is a proposal from a local landowner to locate the building, along with commercial enterprises, on the large waterfront lot at the corner of Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive. The idea is to create a mixed-use, focal point for the community.

Bolte estimated the 1,000 folks a day who would visit the new library would be a big boon to the struggling downtown area. “It could make a big difference in downtown Oak Harbor,” she said. “It could bring a lot of people to businesses down there.”

Mayor Patty Cohen, however, threw a bit of a wet blanket on the idea. She said she was hoping that a large hotel would be built on the waterfront someday and she pointed out that this may be the last big chunk of waterfront land left. “I would hate to see the last chance go away,” she said.

Yet Councilman Paul Brewer pointed out that the city, developers and even a local group have been trying for years to persuade some company to build a hotel or convention center on the spot, but without success.

“I don’t see a hotel ever being there,” he said. “It’s not economically feasible. We need to bring people downtown now.”

Bolte also took a jab at all the failed attempts to revitalize downtown Oak Harbor. “I’ve watched the council for the last couple of years and it’s seemed like one step forward and two steps back,” she said. “But this is going to happen. These folks are going to make it happen.”

The biggest drawback to the idea could be the price of the land.

The other downtown sites under consideration are the Freund property across Beeksma Drive from the city RV park and the Massey / McWilliams property, which is on Pioneer Way, across the street from Angie’s Oriental Mini Mart.

The library board has already identified many of the pros and cons of each site. The current site, for example, doesn’t have enough parking. The Freund property is on a flood plain and it could add to traffic congestion from the nearby Wal-Mart development.

On the other hand, Bolte said Carl Freund has proposed creating an interesting community focal point in the area, including a library and pioneer museum / visitor center for nearby Freund marsh park. A city path is already partly completed in the area and could link up library and museum.

The Massey / McWilliams site is closer to the downtown area and could have a greater impact on revitalizing the old town. But the cost of the land and parking would probably be major considerations.

At the end of the workshop Tuesday, both council members and city staff urged Bolte and the library board to “please think multi-use,” as City Administrator Thom Myers said. He suggested that the library could be built in conjunction with a cultural center.

Bolte said the library is very willing to look into joint ventures with the city, other organizations or even commercial interests.

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.

According to Bolte, the Feb. 4 Sno-Isle Regional Library levy election is a separate issue and the result likely won’t have any effect on the plans to build a new library.

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