Spokane Valley could have a new library in the heart of the city as soon as 2022, if the county library district is successful in acquiring a grant and raising enough funds to pay for the new facility.
The new library would be built over an empty lot bordering Balfour Park and across the street from Spokane Valley City Hall. It would replace the current Spokane Valley Library on Main Ave, which was built in 1955.
The Spokane County Library District has floated three bonds to build a new library in Spokane Valley: in 2008, 2014 and 2015. But they were all voted down, with the bond in 2015 falling 3% short of the 60% needed. This fall, the Washington State Department of Commerce recommended the district receive a $2 million grant from the state to build a library. The district will receive it if the State Legislature approves the funds in the 2021 legislative session.
The district was also approved for a loan through a Washington State Treasury Office local government financing program, and plans to use capital savings, a $1.3 million contribution from the city of Spokane Valley and fundraising to cover the remaining estimated $14 to $15 million the district will need to complete the project.
Spokane County Library District Executive Director Patrick Roewe said the district had planned to float another bond in 2020 after successfully passing a maintenance and operations levy in 2019, but decided against it due to the financial challenges many county residents faced after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think a bond would have been a significant challenge in general, but especially now given the economic circumstances,” Roewe said. “It just felt like a non-starter for us.”
John Craig, chair of the Board of Trustees for the Spokane County Library District, said fundraising and grants are likely the only way for the district to replace their busiest and oldest library in the system. He said the district was criticized for earlier attempts to build a new library, with community members suggesting they seek corporate sponsorships or fundraise instead. He said he is open to allowing a business to sponsor a meeting room, or a person or business to buy the naming rights to the entire building, as a way to cover the cost of building it.
“I think to be perfectly honest, the voters have spoken. They want a new library, but not at that price,” Craig said. “We just feel that given the history it’s better to try a different approach.”
Roewe said the current Spokane Valley Library was built for the needs the community had 60 years ago, and it’s difficult for the libraries to accommodate the needs that patrons have now like meeting rooms and space for after-school activities. The current library has two floors and a basement, where the library’s only meeting space is located.
He said the district hasn’t started designing yet, but he anticipates a new library would be a much more open and flexible building, and possibly one floor.
“The library at the point of its construction was still more of a warehouse for books,” he said. “That’s still a part of our mission, but we’ve seen substantial growth in our facilities as shared learning spaces, or for story time.”
If the legislature approves the grant, the district plans to sell the old library building and use the money to replenish the capital project savings used to construct the new library.
Roewe said he’s hopeful the district can start the design process this year and begin construction in 2022.