New 10-year plan for library buildings approved

There could be as many as seven new facilities in the Sno-Isle Libraries system over the coming decade, according to a plan unanimously approved by the library district’s Board of Trustees at the regularly scheduled July 25, 2016, meeting.

“We call it the ‘Capital Facilities Plan,’ but really it’s more of a statement of capital facilities needs across the district,” Executive Director Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory said. “This plan responds to the services our customers are requesting and the growth in the communities we serve.”

The plan is available online at sno-isle.org/facplan. It puts facilities in four broad categories: maintain, renovate, replace and areas of opportunity.

Most of the existing 21 libraries, and the administrative service center in Marysville, fall into the “maintain” category. These facilities are anticipated to meet current and projected needs with regular and ongoing maintenance, according to the plan.

One facility, the Mill Creek Library, is identified for renovation. Built in 1987 and expanded in 1992, the plan acknowledges that the library “is significantly undersized” for the community. However, further expansion at the current site may not be possible so the plan recommends renovating the building to maximize its service to the community.

The plan also calls out library buildings in Arlington, Lake Stevens and Stanwood as too small to meet current needs, let alone existing and anticipated growth in those areas.

“These communities told us they want new libraries and we’re working with them to determine the best way forward,” Woolf-Ivory said. “There are reasons for each of these facilities to be replaced.”

The approved facilities plan refers to an “Areas of Opportunity” category, which includes an interesting mix of projects.

“The common theme of these projects is addressing unserved or underserved community needs, as well as population growth,” Woolf-Ivory said.

Topping the list is an area identified in the plan as “128th Street/Mariner.”

“There are 30,000 people living in this island of unincorporated Snohomish County surrounded by Mukilteo, Everett, Mill Creek and Lynnwood,” Woolf-Ivory said of the area south of the Everett city limits which includes Mariner High School. “The tremendous library needs in the Mariner area were becoming apparent a decade ago, but the economic downturn put things on hold.”

The plan calls for a “library demonstration project” for the area and Woolf-Ivory says it could be up and running in the first quarter of this coming year. Such a project could mean a library using leased space, staffed with existing Sno-Isle Libraries employees and stocked with existing materials and the normal collection-addition processes.

The plan calls for a second demonstration project in the Lakewood/Smokey Point area, where significant growth is occurring now with more expected by 2025, according to the plan. “The Camano Library (which opened in 2015), started as a demonstration project,” Woolf-Ivory said. “Using the demonstration-project model, I’m hoping we can provide increased services to Lakewood/Smokey Point by the fourth quarter of 2017.”

The plan identifies a new library for what is termed the greater Mill Creek area.

According to the plan, “The current (Mill Creek Library) is too small to adequately serve the existing customer base and significant population growth is projected in the areas east and south of the current Mill Creek Library.” Strong community feedback from area residents indicate they want the existing Mill Creek Library to remain at its current location in addition to a new library in the area.

Also in the areas-of-opportunity category is the Lynnwood Library. “While the existing library meets today’s needs, tomorrow is a different story,” Woolf-Ivory said.

More than 1,000 multi-family housing units are under construction or permitted in and around Lynnwood’s core. City officials are also moving forward with the City Center Project, which envisions a new library as part a new civic center. In addition, Lynnwood is already a regional transit hub and Link Light Rail is expected to open in 2023.

“We want to be prepared to support the city’s vision for itself,” Woolf-Ivory said.

While the plan lays out the needs, it doesn’t include a timeline for the projects or the costs.

“Each of these projects is as unique as the community it serves now or will serve,” Woolf-Ivory said. “The timeline for each project will be a collaborative effort and influenced by each community's sense of urgency for an improved library.”

That said, some projects on the list that are likely to move ahead more quickly than others.

“Lake Stevens’ efforts for a new library 10 years ago were frustrated by the economic downturn,” Woolf-Ivory said. Voter-approval for funding will be required to match the community’s urgency for a larger library. “The soonest that could happen is Feb. 14, 2017,” Woolf-Ivory said.

Also on a potentially faster track are the library demonstration projects at 128th Street/Mariner and Lakewood/Smokey Point. Because they will get started with the library district’s existing budget and won’t require voter approval, both projects could up and running in 2017.

“This document reflects what we heard from our communities and customers,” Woolf-Ivory said. “We asked questions and listened. Residents told us they love their libraries and want more space to read, to study and to gather as a community.”

As for costs, that, too, is determined through the collaborative process with each community.

“Size, location, new building or existing building, level of philanthropic support; there are many variables that can affect project cost,” Woolf-Ivory said. Library facilities are generally funded by capital bonds, which must be approved by voters in a designated Library Capital Facilities Area. “In the end, it is a decision by the community, not by Sno-Isle Libraries.”

Work on the plan began mid-2015 when the library district commissioned a study to look at the future of libraries. “We could see our own data, but we wanted to check our trends against a national perspective,” Woolf-Ivory said. Findings from that study, released in September, 2015, confirmed what Sno-Isle Libraries officials were seeing, that libraries are becoming places to meet, study, attend programs and use technology.

“More people are coming to the community libraries and they are coming for more than checking out a book,” Woolf-Ivory said. While numbers vary from library to library, data comparing the first quarter of 2015 and 2016 show an average 12 percent increase in people going to libraries across the district.

This past fall, an initial phase of public meetings, an online survey and interviews with community leaders began with the help of the Seattle-based consulting firm EnviroIssues.

“We knew that some of the community libraries are undersized for their communities; the Lake Stevens Library is a prime example,” Woolf-Ivory said. “But we work closely with our communities to provide the library and services that they want. We needed to go listen to our customers and the communities.”

That community input became part of a draft plan that was released this past May. “Then, we took the draft plan back out to the communities to check our work,” Woolf-Ivory said of the second phase of public review. An online survey and face-to-face presentations to community groups by her and other library officials helped fine-tune the plan.

“It was very helpful and we did make some changes,” Woolf-Ivory said. “For example, the draft plan identified the Arlington Library for renovation. The community told us they wanted more, that they want a new building, and that’s reflected in the plan approved by our trustees.”

About Sno-Isle Libraries

Sno-Isle Libraries is a tax-supported library district serving Snohomish and Island counties. The mission is to be a community doorway to reading, resources and lifelong learning, and a center for people, ideas and culture. Policy is set by a seven-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Snohomish County Council and Island County Board of Commissioners.

Sno-Isle Libraries provides a network of public library services to more than 728,000 residents across approximately 2,200 square miles. The population within the library district is projected to increase by 14 percent by 2025, with some areas growing at a much higher rate.

Library services and materials are delivered through 21 facilities in 21 cities, towns and communities; through mobile library services and online. Eight of the 21 community libraries are owned by the library district. The library district owns the Service Center, an administrative and distribution facility in Marysville which supports library operations across the district. Twelve facilities are owned and maintained by individual cities and towns. One facility is owned by a local Friends of the Library group.