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All on board with downtown library site

The path was paved for a September election when Sno-Isle Regional Library’s board of trustees last week endorsed a downtown location for Oak Harbor’s proposed new library.

The unanimous vote concurs with the recommendation of the Oak Harbor City Council that the library be located at Bayshore Drive and Pioneer Way, at what is known as the Massey property.

Earlier in the process, the Oak Harbor Library Board had recommended a less costly site on Jerome Street near Oak Harbor Senior Center, but switched to the downtown site after it was strongly endorsed by the city council, and after the council suggested it will lend financial support to the project.

“It’s important to the community that the new library be located in a convenient and central location,” said Kathleen Shaw, Library Board president, in a news release issued by Sno-Isle. “The downtown location is a wonderful setting for a new library.”

Library supporters looked at other sites as well, one of which still gets mentioned — the administrative headquarters of Pacific Northwest Bank on Pioneer Way, which is being abandoned by the bank’s new owner, Wells Fargo Bank.

That building is still talked about by some Oak Harbor residents, said Cheryl Teleford, Sno-Isle assistant director for community libraries and technology, on Monday. “It does crop up periodically,” she said.

According to Teleford, bank officials conducted a tour of the building about a year ago. “They approached us and we toured the facility,” she said. But she said Sno-Isle needed “blueprints and supporting documents,” which weren’t immediately available from the bank during its transition period. There were questions about the building’s ability to handle the weight of library materials, whether it met modern earthquake standards, and other issues, said Teleford.

The bank building’s fate should be known soon. Greg Boehmer, a Wells Fargo spokesman in Portland, said Monday that “we’re evaluating some proposals and should have a decision (in a few weeks) — they’re getting close.” He said he couldn’t disclose the proposals being considered.

With the Sno-Isle trustees’ vote March 22, all eyes are now focused on the Massey site, an undeveloped lot that is the most “downtown” of all options considered.

Mary Kelly, Sno-Isle community relations manager, said that with the city council and library trustees in support of the Massey site, the two parties have to meet to work out operational details as well as a resolution that will likely be presented to voters on Sept. 14.

Voters will be asked to form an Oak Harbor Library Capital Facility Area, which creates a separate taxing district for the purpose of funding a new library through property taxes. In addition, voters will pass judgement on a bond that would pay for the 30,000 square first library. The first measure needs a simple majority to pass, while the bond requires a 60 percent yes vote. Early estimates peg the library’s cost at $12 million.

The current Oak Harbor Library contains 12,000 square feet of space squeezed into a building on the Skagit Valley College Whidbey Campus.

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