News

Debate over library location draws a crowd

By PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

Seats may have been in short supply, but emotions weren’t Wednesday at a King County Library System public meeting.

Approximately 100 citizens, many opposed to a proposal to relocate the South 320th Street branch library, filled the City Council chambers at Federal Way City Hall.

Library systems director Bill Ptacek started the meeting, telling those in attendance the library board’s general presumption is to redevelop the branch at its current location. A proposed move near Sound Transit’s new transit center at South 316th Street, he said, is one option the board and library system officials are considering.

“We’ve not made our minds up,” he said.

Ptacek acknowledged the library system advertised that its countywide 2004 capital improvement bond, which voters approved, would help fund a redevelopment of the South 320th branch at its current location. He added, however, that language existed in the bond for the board to have the option to change plans if the need exists, or if conditions changed.

“The board can’t do that lightly,” he said.

Building a library near the transit center fits in with the city’s long-term vision of a city center, said Patrick Doherty, Federal Way’s economic development director.

In a brief presentation about Federal Way’s city center plan, Doherty outlined the city’s goal to redevelop the central core to feature more housing and mixed-use buildings, including libraries.

When a map of the downtown area was displayed, Federal Way resident Gayla Hardison pointed out the library branch is already in the city center boundaries.

Adrianne Ralph, public services facilities design coordinator, said the branch is located on the far outskirts of the city center.

Ralph said choosing a site for the library would involve weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each site.

In considering visibility, Ralph said the current site can be made more visible through redevelopment. It is also located next to a major street, she said.

The proposed transit center site, she said, would also be easily visible to passersby.

“That criteria might be a draw,” Ralph added.

Other criteria such as space available, access and centrality would also have to be considered, she said.

Ralph did skip over one criteria for site design –– community preference, saying input so far has shown clear support for the current site.

When it came time for public input, facilitator Milenko Matanovic faced frequent difficulties in moderating the flow of the discussion, causing frustration among some people.

One member of the audience said the crowd had become unruly and Matanovic was not effectively controlling the meeting.

“Your role is to give us constructive input,” Matanovic said, adding the goal of the meeting wasn’t to make accusations, but to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each site.

Several residents pointed out possible drawbacks to relocating the library near a transit center, citing vagrants loitering nearby and using the facility like a hotel instead of a library.

The safety of children was a recurring concern among residents, many of whom said placing a library near a high-traffic area like the transit center would be dangerous for pedestrians.

“Our children need a warm, safe place to study,” Jeanne Epp said.

Her husband, Merlin, said students frequently use the library in part because of its proximity to nearby schools.

In a city that’s becoming increasingly diverse, Merlin Epps said, a library provides all students with access to technology and resources that may not be available to them elsewhere.

“A library is the central core of education,” he said. “This is a place that humanizes a community.”

Hardison’s daughter, Elizabeth, said she wants the branch to stay where it is, citing its popularity among students.

Margaret Nelson, who has organized a petition drive supporting the current location, said a relocation to a new site could negatively impact the library system’s efforts the next time a bond issue comes up.

“Nobody’s going to trust them,” she said.

Hardison said the library system should consider the possibility of lawsuits if the board decide to go forward with a relocation. She added the library system was risking the future trust of residents.

When something is done properly and fairly, Hardison said she supports it.

“But when I feel it’s being done the wrong way, I will stand up and scream at the top of my lungs,” she said.

Despite the strong support for the current location, there were some citizens interested in a library closer to the city core. Two said a library near the transit center would benefit those on the east side of the city.

Several people acknowledged the need for a library to serve the east side, but not at the cost of the current library location.

Staff writer Philip Palermo: 925-5565, ppalermo@fedwaymirror.com

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