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Thornton Murphy Park floated as potential site of new South Hill library

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 26, 2017, 11:12 a.m.

Eastern South Hill residents would be the first recipients of a new, expanded library if voters approve a planned bond measure next year.

While planners stress talks are in the early stages, city leaders are eyeing vacant parkland at the corner of Ray Street and 27th Avenue for the construction of a new, 30,000-square-foot facility that was envisioned as part of the Spokane Public Library board’s plan for future expansion.

The new branch would be double the size of the current South Hill library, built at 3324 S. Perry St. in 1996, and require approval of a likely lease agreement with the Spokane Park Board. The library would be located on land that is currently part of Thornton Murphy Park, and adjacent to the Southside Senior and Community Center.

“Nothing’s been finalized at this point,” said Andrew Chanse, executive director of Spokane Public Library. “We’re just doing some of our preliminary work.”

That has included picking up a resolution of support from the autonomous Park Board earlier this month, and submitting a request for design firms to begin envisioning the scope and cost of a facility. Chanse said the library board is looking at August or November of next year to take to the voters a bond measure that is intended to address other needs of the system identified in the report, including improvements on the first floor of the downtown library to offer more services to the public.

The intent is not to saddle taxpayers with too stiff of a bill on the bond measure, Chanse said. Voters approved a property tax levy in 2013 at a rate of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value that was extended earlier this year. That money covers services at the library, not new construction or upgrades to existing facilities.

“We know that the community doesn’t have an endless pocketbook,” he said.

The South Hill branch isn’t the only facility in need of expansion, according to the future study completed last year. The Shadle branch, the only library in the system open seven days a week, is also in need of more room, but that can be achieved by a build-out at its current location.

That’s not true of the South Hill library, Chanse said. An expansion outward would take up the valuable parking space in the lot to the south of the entrance, and building a second story isn’t as desirable for a branch intended to cater to families, he said.

The city’s parks department owns the land where the Shadle library was built in 1997. The Park Board leased the acreage to the city’s library system in an agreement signed before construction began. A similar agreement is likely if voters approve funds to build the new library at Thornton Murphy Park, officials said, avoiding the costs of buying new land to build.

The new location for the South Hill branch would put the library on a primary arterial, Ray Street, and closer to a Spokane Transit Authority bus route. STA doesn’t have a route that goes by the branch on Perry.

If built, the plan is not to affect any amenities at Thornton Murphy Park, said Leroy Eadie, director of Spokane parks, including a popular basketball court built by the Hoopfest nonprofit arm.

“The area that we’re looking at and focusing on doesn’t have any programming associated with it,” Eadie said.

A winding driveway cuts through some pine trees, offering access to the senior and community center, on the roughly 1.4 acres where the library would be built. There wouldn’t be any work on the site until at least 2019, Eadie said.

The driveway serves as overflow parking for the community center next door, said Lisa Rosier, who recently took over as executive director of the facility.

“I think it will be mutually beneficial, that people can go to the library, then see what a beautiful facility we have here,” Rosier said.

A new library branch hasn’t been built in Spokane since 1998, when work was completed on the 10,600-square-foot Indian Trail branch. It was the last project completed with dollars raised by a voter-approved bond passed in September 1990.

City Councilman Breean Beggs said he hadn’t yet been briefed on the idea of using parkland as the site for the new branch, but that its location made sense.

“Where the current library is, as opposed to Lincoln Heights, it’s not in a densely populated area,” Beggs said. “It’s really just in the middle of a neighborhood, in the middle of the South Hill.”

Despite that location, the South Hill branch is described in the future study as one of the busiest libraries in the system, with the highest circulation and event attendance. Only the downtown branch has more visitors each year.

Using existing public land as the potential site of new facilities is one of the priorities outlined in the city’s six-year strategic plan document, adopted by Mayor David Condon and the Spokane City Council earlier this month. Rick Romero, the former utilities director overseeing implementation of the plan, said the South Hill library proposal was just one of many potential lower-cost public investments that could result from looking at new ways to use the city’s existing real estate portfolio.

“It’s kind of getting everybody out of their vertical world, and think of these things as a public asset, not just as a park asset,” Romero said. “The opportunities are really pretty endless.”

That includes a potential parking garage and trailhead near the northwest entrance of Riverfront Park, as well as three new middle schools on city property to meet classroom size requirements and a potential downtown football stadium.