Out of work and new to Eastern Washington last year, Mark Woolsey found a fresh start at Spokane Valley Library.
He’d hoped to find a few self-help books but ended up getting far more than that. The library’s computer labs, public printers and free Wi-Fi enabled him to search for jobs and submit online applications. Librarians helped him update and improve the appearance of his résumé.
“They’re doing a lot of impressive stuff here,” said Woolsey, who eventually found part-time work but continues to take advantage of the library’s programs and services. “I think that’s why it can get so busy in here.”
Woolsey is among the growing number of patrons discovering that today’s libraries are more than just dry places to keep books and periodicals. They’re helping communities build bridges to the digital era by offering free programs, services and other assistance designed to appeal to a broad range of needs and interests.
The library, however, now is cramped, with an average of nearly 900 people per day using the facility. Built in 1955, when the population of Spokane Valley was about 40,000, the 22,900-square-foot, three-level building is serving a population that has grown to 91,000 people. The branch also hosts more than 700 meetings per year in its conference room.
“More and more I think libraries are about building a sense of community,” said Spokane County Library District Executive Director Nancy Ledeboer. “I really believe people need these connections.”
The library district wants to build a new 30,000-square-foot, single-level main branch at the corner of Sprague Avenue and Herald Road, which would be part of an expanded Balfour Park in Spokane Valley. By keeping it on one level, the building would commit more square-footage to actual use because no space would be needed for stairways and elevator shafts, the district explains, plus the new branch could be operated with less staff.
It also wants to build a new, 10,000-square-foot branch at Conklin Road to serve Greenacres and remodel the Argonne branch near Millwood to expand into what is now the district’s administration offices. The existing main Valley branch would be converted to administrative offices and an operations center.
Voters will decide next month whether the $22 million plan gets the green light.
If approved, property owners in the Spokane Valley area would see their taxes increase about $14 per $100,000 of assessed value per year over the next 20 years to repay the bonds, according to the library district.
Estimated cost of the new main branch is $15 million, $5 million for the smaller Conklin branch and $2 million for the Argonne expansion.
Ballots should be arriving in the mail by the end of next week and must be postmarked or dropped off by April 22 to be counted.
Valley voters will see two issues on their ballots. One asks whether a Spokane Valley Library Capital Facilities Area should be created, which would limit the proposed tax increase to properties nearest the planned new branches, and the second asks whether taxes should be increased to pay for the proposed bond. Ballots will be sent only to voters within the proposed capital facilities area, and the bond measure requires a supermajority of at least 60 percent for passage.
The proposed capital facilities area includes the boundaries of the Central Valley, East Valley and West Valley school districts. Exceptions include the city of Liberty Lake, which has its own municipal library system, and a few neighborhoods in West Valley that are within the city limits of Spokane, which also has its own municipal library system.
It’s the same approach that was taken in 2003 when residents of the Moran Prairie area of the South Hill created their own service area to pay for bonds used to build a new branch closer to them.
The library district is one of the largest in the state, serving from the West Plains to the state line and up into Deer Park. None of the proposed Spokane Valley bond would be used for converting the existing main branch to administrative and operations use, Ledeboer said, because those are services that benefit the entire district.
Tax increases generally are a tough sell in the conservative Spokane Valley.
Voters dumped the library district’s $33.4 million bond proposal in 2008, for example, but three years earlier had overwhelming decided to join the countywide district rather than form their own municipal system.
But backers believe support is stronger this time because the proposal has been scaled back and is seen by many community leaders as a key part of overall plans to help revitalize a popular stretch of Sprague in the heart of Spokane Valley.
“It’s an issue that has a lot of appeal,” said Rick Lloyd, president of Citizens for Valley Libraries, the group urging passage of next month’s bond measure. “Libraries, and the services they provide, are an important part of a healthy community.”