SOUNDOFF: How the library site was chosen

Site selection for a new Oak Harbor Regional Library began in 2001. The Building Committee identified six sites which included three locations in Old Town Pioneer way area, one on Beeksma Drive across from the west end of City Beach Park and another near the senior center on present school district property. A comparison of these sites and an upgrade/remodel of the present library site was then made.

The process began with a preliminary review of each site by the Building Committee and an architectural firm hired for the study and represented by Ross Jamieson. Using the building size, parking and other operational requirements that the Building Committee had previously developed, Mr. Jamieson examined the feasibility of each site. The comparison included construction cost estimates as influenced by topography, anticipated soil conditions and storm and traffic impact fees. It was apparent from these results that the present location would not be suitable. Located within one end of a building also used by Skagit Valley College there was little ability to achieve the necessary building size. Even with an additional floor, requiring extensive structural changes to the existing level, the building was deficient in size. An additional major factor was that no reasonable solution for the significant parking requirement was found. For these reasons it was dropped from further consideration.

Two other sites were eventually dropped from consideration. The site at the east end of Bayshore drive, due to lack of response from the seller’s representatives, and the former Pacific National Bank building, because the seller could not hold the property off the market for at least two years until the library had the funds from a successful bond election to acquire it. Prior to this decision on the part of the seller, Mr. Jamieson and the Building Committee conducted a preliminary evaluation of the site. The building would require a number of internal configuration changes to accommodate the library requirements such as replacing the existing elevator with a new one functionally located for library requirements and strengthening the second floor to support book loads. A major issue with the site is the possible upgrades required to meet current earthquake and hazardous materials building codes. This information was not obtained since the seller withdrew the property from consideration.

The Building Committee developed a rating system that evaluated each site based on a number of significant issues including the cost factors noted above and proximity to retail shopping and services. The three remaining sites exhibited varying degrees of accommodation to these issues with the site on the school district property and the site between Pioneer Way and Bayshore, adjacent to Ramaley Park, having the most to offer.

The large comparatively level school district lot accommodated a single level library and parking area. The smaller size and topography of the Pioneer Way lot required placing the parking area beneath the level occupied by the library. While total cost was estimated to be less at the school district site, there was very strong support during public forums for the downtown Pioneer Way site. It was thought that there would be many library patrons who would be inclined to shop in the nearby retail and service areas as well as shoppers who could easily stop at the library. This was seen as a major step forward in the revitalization of that part of our community. As a result of these findings the city of Oak Harbor and Sno-Isle Library system are in agreement that the new library should be constructed at the Pioneer Way site.

Bruce Sutherland is a member of the Oak Harbor Library Board.

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