When it comes to the future of libraries in Spokane, civic leaders aren’t going by the book – they’re writing a new one.
It’s been a great read so far.
The tale began last year, with a bond proposal forged by an unlikely partnership and some creative land swaps.
Last fall, Spokane voters got a sneak peek at the ending, which includes renovations at the downtown and Shadle branches and replacements for several others.
They liked it so much they approved a $77 million bond.
At the same time, they OK’d a $495 million capital bond for Spokane Public Schools that will complement the library project and pave the way for collaborative facilities at several sites.
“This is a game-changer, not only for the schools and the libraries, but for citizens in general,” said Andrew Chanse, executive director of the Spokane Public Library. “What we’re really excited about is modernizing our libraries to make them more about self-directed education and learning, and incorporating more technology.
“We’re going to rebuild our libraries, not just around books, but around people and how people gather,” he said.
Chanse said he hopes improvements at all the libraries, which haven’t had major updates since they were built in the 1990s, will encourage people to use them more. He added the renovations at the smaller branches might motivate people who have been using larger branches to visit their smaller neighborhood library.
At the same time, libraries and schools figure to gain from using shared spaces. The details have to be worked out, but adults and students might use the same facilities at several sites during school hours.
“The trick is providing that balance of access and security,” Chanse said. “We have some good options.”
Now it’s on to the rough draft, which got approval last week from the City Council and the school board.
Titled the “Partnership Umbrella Agreement,” it spells out the details on several shared projects. Final decisions will be made by a partnership policy committee and an executive team, both of which will draw their membership from the city, school district and libraries.
Rick Romero, who heads special projects for the city and teamed with Chanse and Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson to lead the bond effort, was optimistic that the partnership’s success will continue.
“Too often, the forces of government aren’t really pushing people together,” Romero said. “That’s why it’s important to create some kind of structure where we can keep pushing against those structures that want to push us apart,” Romero said.
Most important, Romero said, is that the parties “understand the big picture of what everybody is getting.”
The bottom line for libraries is that the parties will modify the current interlocal agreement to maximize joint usage at several sites.
They include the district’s current and projected used of public library facilities; future use of library facilities for school district activities; and joint use agreements for the new library near the Libby Center and near Shaw Middle School.
“As partners, we have to look out for the success of the other partner,” Romero said. “We’re better off if the school district is successful, and you’re better off if the city is successful.”
For library patrons, that will mean a transformational experience in how they gain access to information.
That will happen most dramatically in Hillyard. In what will be the most conspicuous display of intergovernmental cooperation, a reborn Shaw Middle School and a renovated On Track Academy will be near a larger, modern Hillyard library.
“That’s one of the great projects that we’re looking at,” Chanse said. “It goes back to how we can work together for the students and the surrounding area.”
The current Hillyard library was built in 1983 and is too small – especially when “kids are acting like kids and adults might be annoyed,” Chanse said.
The last thing the library wants to do is discourage use, Chanse added. To that end, new facilities at Hillyard and elsewhere will have more small study rooms and community rooms.
At the same time, adults and children must be kept separate during common use hours.
“Security and safety is at the top of our minds, and it’s in every conversation that we have,” Chanse said. “We have plenty of options.”
Common-use libraries may adjust their hours, perhaps allowing only students inside during mornings, the general public in the early afternoon, and lifting restrictions after school ends.
Also being considered is some sort of partition and separate entrance to allow student access to children’s books.
Regardless, the decision will be made cooperatively.
“That’s what I like about working with SPS,” Chanse said. “They’re willing to come to the table not with a predetermined idea of what this is going to look like, but how does this need to function and maintain that safety focus, and still be balanced.”
Several projects are already in the design phase.
The campus master plan for the Shaw site will be led by the district, with the library to be constructed on SPS property.
At Libby, the district will transfer ownership of property on Sprague Avenue for the city’s construction of a new library.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.