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

A 21st Century Library: Spokane reopens its Central Library downtown after two years

After more than two years of renovations, the downtown public library reopened with a new name and new look on Monday.

The newly reopened building, now the Central Library, adds an array of new media studios, event spaces and a cafe, among other services not previously available at the downtown library.

“This is a great day for Spokane and a great day for the downtown environment,” Mayor Nadine Woodward told a crowd who gathered at Spokane Falls Boulevard for a ribbon cutting ceremony. “This revitalized space really is a 21st century library and will be an asset to all of those who live and work and recreate downtown.”

The renovation cost $33 million and was funded by a $77 million voter-approved bond in 2018 to renovate and rebuild libraries in Spokane as well as add a new one, though plans were put in motion as far back as 2015. The downtown library temporarily relocated to the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza during the renovation.

“Libraries have been around for thousands of years and they are the mark of a great city. A great library is what makes a great city,” City Council President Breean Beggs said on Monday. “What I love about our library is that, for the last few years, it has been a place where everybody comes. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Whether you have housing. How wealthy you are. What your immigration status is. Your age. This is the place where everybody has access to knowledge and culture.”

The Central Library isn’t just a quiet place for books anymore, said Downtown Spokane President and CEO Emilie Cameron.

“It is a state of the art facility, bringing our community together and exceeding expectations,” she said.

Hundreds escaped the hot summer morning to get a look at the renovations inside the building after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Without adding to the building’s pre-existing 117,000 square feet, designers expanded public space in the library by one-third, said David Schnee, principal at Group 4, the architecture firm responsible for the redesign.

The biggest changes are on the first floor, where the library’s office space has been transformed to include a public space with tables and seating as well as the New Leaf Cafe, a program by Transitions that provides job training for women who face employment barriers. The first floor also includes a computer lab, business lab, art studio and two event spaces, the latter of which were already occupied for children’s story time on Monday morning.

A “social staircase,” complete with outlets and designed for people to sit on, connects the first and second floors.

The second floor includes the library’s collections, a Spokane River-themed children’s play area dubbed “River Rumpus,” and multiple study rooms.

The third floor includes nxwyxwyetkw Hall (pronounced inn-whi-whi-ettk, a Salish word meaning “Life in the Water”) for events like Lilac City Live, as well as a music studio, audio studio and video production studio.

Originally built in 1994, the building is just one example of libraries pivoting to offer their communities a wider range of media and resources that would otherwise be considered “high-barrier activities,” said Amanda Donovan, Spokane Public Library’s marketing and communications director.

“It’s creating so many opportunities to make Spokane a cutting edge city,” she said. “We’ve got such a great place here, and here are some opportunities for people to learn and grow in our own city.”

The different multimedia studios were a favorite among Monday’s visitors, Donovan said.

“I’ve never seen that before in any library,” Kevin Mulryne said of the studios as he toured the library. “It’s right there and you can do it for free.”

Judy Rowe said the renovation was “just amazing.”

“I’ve been going to the library for 60-plus years and to see this transformation … the computers, all the multimedia, it’s just absolutely amazing,” she said. “And they still have books.”

The books are not going away, Donovan said. “We’re just adding and evolving to what we offer at the library.”

“It just feels surreal to see everyone here,” Donovan said. “People are just blown away because they didn’t know what to expect.”

After Monday’s reopening, she said, “tomorrow is business as usual.”