SOUNDOFF: New library still needed

The proposal for a new library in Oak Harbor was soundly defeated by voters in September. Also defeated, at least for the present, is the dream of a new library to serve as a center for people, ideas and culture in our community.

The Library Board has been listening carefully, and will continue to listen to community members. Many reasons for the defeat of the proposal have been brought forward, and thoughtful citizens from all over North Whidbey have taken the time to register their thoughts and concerns about the new library.

The Library Board appreciates the feedback it has received with regards to the election and a library capital facility area. Most of the comments seem to fall into one of three themes: site selection, confusion over a Library Capital Facility Area, and the need for a new library. We’d like to briefly address each of these.

Site: The Oak Harbor building committee spent four years identifying building needs as compared to available land, visiting possible locations, talking with members of the community, and holding open houses. Sno-Isle and the city of Oak Harbor jointly funded a feasibility study on six sites (including expansion of the current library) that was done by a consultant familiar with library construction projects.

Based on careful evaluation and comparison of the reports for each site, the list was narrowed down from six to two: the Jerome Street site and the Bayshore/Pioneer site. Both sites had strengths and weaknesses. The City Council and the Chamber of Commerce both advocated strongly for the downtown Bayshore/Pioneer site. That was one of many reasons that location was singled out. However, given the election outcome, we are revisiting the decision about where a new library should be located.

Library Capital Facility Area: This is a new and sometimes confusing concept for many, particularly when new taxes are attached to it. An LCFA is a fairly new concept and allows for the formation of a special taxing district soley for the purpose of building a new library. The bond is paid off in 20 years and at that time the LCFA is dissolved. The key benefit of an LCFA is that the cost of a new library project is shared among all of the residents of the library’s service area, not just city residents which is the way it has been in the past. This lowers the cost per household considerably. Not only does the LCFA pay for the building itself, it pays for the land purchase, computers, furniture, and one-time purchase of new books, videos, magazines and newspapers.

An LCFA exists for one purpose only and with no funding has no authority at all. Residents cannot be taxed without a supermajority vote of approval from citizens. When the time comes for approval of a new library project for North Whidbey, citizens will need to vote to establish a Library Capital Facility Area AND vote to fund a library building project that is welcomed and approved by residents.

Need: Many people asked us, why a new library? The current library, after all, is only 10 years old. What many may not realize is that the current library was originally designed to be 21,000 square feet but was reduced to 12,000 square feet due to a budget shortfall. This is 40 percent smaller than what was needed in 1994 and certainly does not adequately meet the community’s needs in 2004. Close to 900 people visit the library every day, seven days a week. The population of North Whidbey is continuing to increase. There are currently some 35,000 residents and even with moderate growth estimates, the population is expected to increase to more than 45,000 by 2020. The number of programs offered at the library has increased by 47 percent since the library opened in 1994. Last year more than 10,000 people attended library programs. The recent summer reading program kickoff attracted a whopping 769 children and adults for the event and it was necessary to turn many disappointed families away.

The Library Board will continue to welcome community input. By gathering and sharing information with citizens we hope to eventually come forward with a plan that will be approved by voters. The need for a new library has not gone away. Oak Harbor and the North Whidbey community need and deserve a new library that will continue to meet the requirements of citizens for the present and the foreseeable future. If books can take us to new worlds, we can make our real world better by working to support reading, learning and community through a library for the future.

We look forward to continued conversations with all of our neighbors and friends on how to plan for a new library in North Whidbey.

Joan Daley, Vern Fowler, Carole LaFond, Kathleen Shaw and Bruce Sutherland, Library Board members.

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