Spokane Public Library officials are preparing to close the system’s Shadle and downtown branches while they undergo major renovations.
The downtown branch could be closed for nearly two years, beginning next spring, while it undergoes extensive construction funded by a property tax bond passed by voters in 2018. It is expected to reopen in March 2022.
The Shadle branch will close first, in December or early next year, with a current projected reopening of May 2021, after an expansion that will nearly double its footprint.
“Really, it’s about not only efficiency in finishing the projects … we’re also anticipating it to be cheaper because of a short construction timeline,” Spokane Public Library Executive Director Andrew Chanse said.
Though officials continue to search for a suitable temporary replacement for the downtown branch, they have identified an alternative space for the Shadle branch in the NorthTown Mall.
“We’re still looking at locations (downtown),” Chanse said. “As you can imagine, real estate is a little bit harder to find downtown.”
Downtown and Shadle branch users will have to find alternatives during the closures, but Chanse is confident they will return.
“They’re going to be greatly improved spaces, and we’re hoping that the community understands what’s in store when the facilities reopen,” Chanse said.
Though they are the two largest in the city’s system, Shadle and Downtown are just two of six existing library branches that are in line for improvements from the $77 million property tax bond voters approved last year.
Four library branches will be renovated, and two will receive entirely new buildings.
The plans also include construction of a new library at East Sprague Avenue and South Haven Street, across the street from the Libby Center campus.
In addition to addressing capital needs across its branches, the undertaking aims to bring their design up to the demands of 21st century library patrons, who are increasingly using the system for far more than just checking out books.
“That’s where we’re really moving toward – places that can be really engaging and interactive,” said Amanda Donovan, director of marketing and communications for the Spokane Public Library.
Neither the downtown branch nor the Shadle branch, which was built in 1997, have been renovated on this scale, according to Donovan.
Officials say closing the downtown and Shadle branches will result in construction being more time-efficient than by trying to section off parts of each building as they undergo renovation.
Though they had initially hoped to avoid closures, officials began to lean heavily toward that option this spring.
“We were hoping maybe we wouldn’t have to (close), but in general, it’s probably more common to have to close, just like any other construction project. It’s just so much harder to do to if it’s still occupied,” library trustee Jim Kershner said.
The temporary Shadle location will have expanded hours aligned with the mall’s operating hours.
“The community is still going to have alternatives, it’s just not going to be quite the same offerings,” Chanse said.
A temporary downtown space has yet to be identified, but officials said it will have a selection of books, holds to pick up upon customer request, limited technology and public computers and some public meeting space.
“We know we’re not going to be able to really fully replace the services that are offered at a big downtown location – it is really a sort of micro-offering,” Chanse said.
The closures will not result in a reduction in staffing, and library leaders see this as an opportunity to dedicate additional resources to community engagement efforts and helping to locate programs in alternative spaces.
“Libraries, for the past decade or two, have been considered irrelevant by some because of Amazon and the ease that option allows for citizens. But we have a really engaged staff that’s out in the community,” Chanse said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said he had been briefed on the library’s timeline.
“They’re doing the best they can and doing a really good job. They’re coordinating a ton of different projects right now,” Stuckart said of library staff.
The first floor of the downtown branch is currently dedicated largely to staff space, which is no longer a necessity.
“It recaptures that first-floor space for the public use. We don’t need as much back office space anymore with the way that libraries are run,” Donovan said. “Really, the idea is opening up the first-floor space to make a very active and engaging space.”
Plans for a remodeled first floor call for construction of a cafe, a computer lab and a “collaborative commons” open working space. The second floor of the downtown branch will retain the familiar feel of a traditional library.
The downtown renovation will also result in an improved children’s area on the second floor, which was an item officials identified as a top demand when conducting community outreach.
The Shadle branch will increase from 17,000 square feet to almost 30,000 square feet, with a relocated entrance.
The addition will include new program rooms and a reading room. The original building will be fitted with new meeting rooms and maker spaces.
Projects also in the works include construction of a new Hillyard/Shaw branch in partnership with Spokane Public Schools at the Shaw Middle School Campus. The East Side branch, the system’s smallest library, will also be relocated to an entirely new facility at Liberty Park.
The branches at South Hill and Indian Trail also will receive upgrades.
The bond, which required 60% voter approval to pass, increased taxes to Spokane residents by 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
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