February 15, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: Restore momentum for Heritage Center

 

Spokane voters have again proved they strongly support city libraries. Take notice, Olympia.

The Washington State Library and the Washington State Archives have about filled up the space available for housing the state’s most important documents and artifacts. Officials going back to the administration of Gov. John Spellman, who left office in 1985, have been aware of the looming problem, but damage from the Nisqually earthquake of 2001 finally got design for a replacement started.

In 2007, the Legislature authorized construction of a Washington Heritage Center that would house the archives and library. A general contractor was designated, and a campaign to raise private donations for the $140 million project was in place.

Money dedicated to the center’s construction was set aside from county document recording fees, mostly those related to real estate transactions.

The timing was horrible. The recession killed the project’s momentum, and legislators looking for every last dollar to support other state programs began raiding the heritage account, which was supposed to be used for construction.

The Heritage Center was not the only victim. The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne’s Addition and Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma were also endangered because they too receive a substantial share of their funding from the heritage fund. Their share of that money will be cut off July 1.

Former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s final budget backfilled that loss with general fund money, but there is no guarantee lawmakers that facing a $1 billion budget shortfall will be sympathetic to the MAC, nor a revival of the effort to get the Heritage Center built. New Secretary of State Kim Wyman told legislators Thursday that the heritage fund, if not raided for other purposes, could grow to $17 million in the next budget biennium. Although not enough in itself to get construction under way, the money could become seed money.

With the state committed, private dollars might follow, and finally move the project forward.

“We’re risking our history,” Wyman says.

Not to mention the education of tens of thousands of Washington students get when they see and touch the artifacts they read about in their classrooms. Continuing to squeeze the state library, archives and the museums in Tacoma and Spokane to scare up more K-12 funds makes no sense.

Shorting the library also jeopardizes federal funding, and the ability of the state to buy software licenses for all local libraries at tremendous savings. And if clinging to paper seems too old-school, Wyman notes that 100 million documents have been digitized, with volunteers undertaking the massive task of indexing all those pixels.

Her renewed push to get the Heritage Center constructed may be premature when there are so many other budget challenges, but putting his item on top of her agenda is an indication how seriously she views the need. She has at least the next four years to drive her message home.

Her appeal Thursday was a good start.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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