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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Library plans for branch renovations, and the unknown, in 2021

Spokane Public Library South Hill Branch assistant Michele Cady delivers books to a waiting person during curbside pickup in November.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The future is undoubtedly bright for the Spokane Public Library, but the new year will bring continued uncertainty.

The pandemic will continue to limit the library’s services for the foreseeable future, but officials also expect to complete the renovation of the Shadle Branch and construction of The Hive, a new building on E. Sprague and S. Haven, in 2021.

“We’re excited about that for sure, but it is certainly a challenge to navigate through the pandemic at the same time as navigating through the construction and opening of these facilities,” Library Director Andrew Chanse told The Spokesman-Review Wednesday.

If the mayor’s proposed 2021 budget is approved by the Spokane City Council on Monday, the Library Fund would be set at $10.7 million, down from the $10.8 million in 2020.

Like other city departments, the library reigned in spending this year, dropping from a projected $10.8 million to $10.4 million. That spending decrease is largely due to keeping 10 vacant positions open and reduced spending on new materials and other services.

Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposed 2021 budget does not call for layoffs of any city employees.

It’s been a year of tumult for the Spokane Public Library, which was forced to close all of its branches when the pandemic struck in March.

As state public health guidelines allowed for it, the library partially reopened for curbside pickup in June, then expanded to limited in-person browsing by appointment. That lasted two weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions in November that will remain in place into January.

To date, the library has had more than 31,000 appointments for curbside pickup across its branches.

The library has worked to expand its digital reach in 2020, eclipsing 30,000 views on its YouTube channel for the first time and regularly hosting online events like virtual storytimes. That enhanced online presence is likely to continue in 2021.

What the coronavirus pandemic will mean for the library’s in-person operations in 2021 remains to be seen.

“Depending on where we’re at with the pandemic, (the public) can expect to see what we’re currently offering, and as we get better as a community with vaccines and things like that, we’ll be able to bring more services,” Chanse said.

If Spokane County is allowed to advance to Phase 3 of Inslee’s reopening plan, the library would be able to open its branches to 50% capacity. It would likely still close off use of its community rooms, but could reopen for limited in-person browsing and computer use.

“We’re offering curbside (pickup), but we’ll be able to offer grab and go access in a very limited amount,” said library spokesperson Amanda Donovan.

The library is in the midst of the most ambitious capital project in its history, which spans the renovation or construction of seven branches funded by a $77 million bond voters approved in 2018.

That work hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic.

“We really lucked out … the stoppage on construction didn’t impact us because we were still in the planning phase, and then we were able to start construction on time,” Donovan said.

The renovation of the Shadle Branch in Northwest Spokane and construction of The Hive in East Central is expected to wrap up in 2021. The Shadle renovation will modernize the facility and expand its footprint by 30,000 square feet.

The Hive is a collaboration with Spokane Public Schools that will bear little resemblance to a traditional library, instead offering meeting spaces and serving as a teacher training facility with offices for Spokane Virtual Learning.

“These facilities are a chance for the public to engage with the library in a different way, it’s going to be a much more modern feel,” Chanse said.

The renovation of the downtown Spokane Public Library building is still scheduled for completion in 2022.

While Shadle is closed due to the renovation, the library has operated a temporary branch inside the NorthTown Mall. The location has been popular enough to warrant consideration by the City Council to keep it open even after the Shadle Branch reopens, at a projected cost of $150,000 for 2021.