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Bond aims to relieve crowding at library

"We need a new library so bad," said Christy Syrcle, of Coeur d'Alene, as she helped her son Spencer Syrcle, 7, with his math homework. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Story hour at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library involves some dodging, scrunching and a bunch of “excuse me’s” as parents and children try to fit into the basement space.

“It’s tight,” library spokesman David Townsend said last week while giving a tour of the cramped facility that holds 13,000 more volumes than it was intended to.

The downstairs men’s restroom has been converted into a storage closet with boxes of supplies and books stacked in the stalls to make more room for books.

Townsend’s office is in the old foyer. At least twice a day someone bangs on the door trying to get in the now-closed entrance.

Most times during the day, there are at least four people on the waiting list to use a computer that has Internet access.

And it’s nearly impossible to have any sort of special exhibit or program that would draw more than 50 people. That’s the amount of floor space Townsend can open up by moving the newspaper stacks into another room. He just hopes nobody wants to access those resources during the program.

This is the evidence the Coeur d’Alene Library Foundation is using in its plea to ask voters Tuesday to approve a $3 million bond to help with the cost of building a new library downtown. The new $6.6 million library would allow the city to double the number of books and other materials, add 24 computers and provide more programs and services.

The measure takes a supermajority, or two-thirds voter approval, to pass.

The library nearly outgrew the former Louisiana-Pacific building on Harrison Avenue as soon as it was moved there in 1986. Now with a population that has grown by 40 percent in the last 10 years, the only way the library can add new material is to clear the shelves by having book sales. For the city’s 34,500-person population, it’s actually short 41,000 volumes, according to national library standards. Based on the city’s population, the American Library Association standards call for three books to be available per Coeur d’Alene resident.

The bond, which would be paid off over 20 years, would help build a new two-story library on a lot across from City Hall that already has been purchased with the help of the city’s urban renewal agency, Lake City Development Corp.

The proposed 42,000-square foot building is double the size of the current library where Kim Liss was trying not to get stepped on last week as she helped her daughter color a paper snowman with orange, purple and red crayons.

“It’s crowded but wonderful,” Liss said as she knelt at the craft table with 5-year-old Dova. “They could use a little more room.”

Yet Liss doesn’t think residents, many of whom are struggling to make a living, should be burdened with higher taxes for the luxury of a larger library.

“I think there is so much they can do with other options without always raising people’s taxes,” she said.

That’s initially what the library foundation had in mind – raising enough private donations to build the new downtown faculty. But organizers said that wasn’t realistic. In order to get grants and other contributions, they needed to show some public support.

That’s why they are going for the general obligation bond, which would help pay a portion of the total estimated $6.6 million cost, which includes the price of the land.

The bond would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $1.29 per month in extra taxes.

The foundation already has raised about $1 million and plans to keep working even if the bond passes.

A June survey of potential voters showed it was doubtful the initial plan to offer a $7 million library bond would pass. The Coeur d’Alene Public Library Foundation, with the urging of the Coeur d’Alene City Council, scaled back the plans and reduced the price tag by $2 million. That meant eliminating one floor that included a community room with seating for 300 people. The city had intended to use the room as the new council chambers, in addition to space for other public meetings and presentations.

Prevalent reasons for opposing the library bond included the perception of being overtaxed and dislike for the downtown locations, the survey showed. No organized opposition to the bond campaign has emerged, but individual residents have written letters to local newspapers.

Denny Davis, a former Democrat state legislator and local attorney, is working with prominent Republican Sandy Patano, who works in U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s local office, to encourage residents to vote for the library bond. Their Citizens for a New Library Political Action Group had raised $23,000 by Jan. 25 and was spending it on billboards, radio and local cable television advertisements, and direct mailings. Some local businesses are stuffing fliers advocating the library bond in take-and-bake pizza wrappers and putting stickers on coffee cups.

Davis said the scaled back proposal shows the foundation is receptive to locals’ concerns. He hopes that the passage of the bond will inspire even more private donations and grants – perhaps enough to add that third floor and the community room.

Besides cost, some people are concerned about the downtown location because it’s not in the geographical center of the city. Patano said that with Coeur d’Alene’s projected growth to the south and west, perhaps downtown will eventually become a central location.

“We like to focus on need, not location,” Patano said.

As of Thursday, more than 1,000 people had requested absentee ballots, a high number, according to Kootenai Count Elections Supervisor Deedie Beard. In the 2001 city election, which included the mayor’s race, only 690 people voted absentee.

Also on Tuesday’s ballot is a separate measure for a $7 million bond for Coeur d’Alene’s public safety needs, which would include a training facility for both fire and law enforcement agencies.

This winter a third proposal was expected to make its way on the ballot, an advisory vote asking residents whether they wanted to close two blocks of Coeur d’Alene’s busiest downtown streets for a memorial garden.

Instead, local businessman Duane Hagadone pulled the proposal in December, saying he didn’t want the advisory vote to divide the community or jeopardize the library and public safety bonds.

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