Library plans depend on voters


The Mirror

As King County prepares to retire a $67 million library bond approved by voters in 1988, officials are asking for a replacement at the same rate to continue with planned library expansions and improved services in libraries across the county.

The King County Library System hopes voters in the Sept. 14 primary election will approve a $172 million replacement bond. Among other things, it would provide the library system with a 10-year capital plan that includes expansions and improvements at both libraries in Federal Way.

The levy rate comes to about 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The levy needs a supermajority (60 percent or more) to pass.

Under the 10-year capital plan, the Federal Way Regional Library would be expanded to 35,000 square feet (the expansion wouldn’t effect trees on the site, officials said), and the South 320th Street Library would be razed and a new 15,000-square-foot library would be built on the site.

The proposed start date for the projects is 2010 for the regional library and 2011 for the South 320th branch.

The library system could be looking at a $18 million budget shortfall if voters approve the statewide Initiative 864 this year. That’s after a significant hit from Initiative 747.

“Ninety-nine percent of our funding comes from property taxes,” said Bill Ptacek, director of the county library system.

Ptacek reiterated the new levy is for the same levy rate King County taxpayers have been paying all along.

“It’s pretty minimal, and it’s not an increase,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565,

Libraries have survived fire, growing pains


The Mirror

On any given day, the Federal Way Regional Library is a bustling center of activity –– but then, libraries here have always been busy.

Libraries have been an important part of the Federal Way community since it was little more than a few houses and farm stands along Highway 99.

In 1944, a group of residents opened a tiny library of 150 books in a condemned school building at one end of Steel Lake. The building was heated by a pot-bellied stove and the oil supply was erratic, according to records kept at the Historical Society of Federal Way.

The number of books and circulation increased substantially over four years, and in 1948, business owner Harold Machlett offered some room in his variety store at South 312th Street and the highway. They put the library’s books –– enough to fill two boxes –– in the back of the store.

The growth continued. Machlett had to expand the space for the collection twice and, during that time, a board of trustees was formed to oversee the library.

In 1956, the board agreed to move into the Federal Shopping Way historic park, where La Petite Flower Shop stands now.

Back then, the branches of the King County library were cooperative. The county provided librarians, supplies and books, and the community provided buildings and maintenance.

The local library board’s chairwoman, Ilene Marckx –– who later with her husband, Francis, donated the land for West Hylebos Park –– said in a 1957 fund-raising letter that the average monthly circulation for the library increased from 900 in 1956 to 1,400 in 1957. The library’s budget was $1,010.

In 1958, the library carried 8,000 books and reported a circulation of 30,000. And it continued to grow. Boeing expanded its business operations during the 1960s, bringing young families from all over the country. Many settled in south King County.

The Federal Way library moved several times before the former Peoples Bank donated its old building at 848 S. 320th St.

On the heels of a $6 million bond passed by King County voters in 1970, an expanded, 10,000-square-foot library with capacity for 40,000 books opened its doors. In 1971, the library held 35,000 books and boasted a circulation of 216,300, according to the Historical Society. It employed three full-time librarians and five clerks. Local volunteers spent hours developing arts programs and providing landscaping to the new facility.

In 1975, the community was stunned when two teenage boys dropped a book of lit matches into the book depository. Fire consumed the building, devouring 36,000 books and causing $1.5 million in damage.

Community members came together again to renovate and repair the damaged library. A new one opened again on South 320th in 1976.

Federal Way’s library continued to grow and expand. In 1982, it joined the King County Librarys System’s newest technology –– a computerized bar code system –– and it wasn’t alone. Libraries across the county were expanding, and several new communities wanted libraries of their own.

In 1988, the county sought voter approval for a $67 million bond for expansions, improvements or new libraries altogether in several locations throughout the county. Officials then expected Federal Way’s population would hit 110,000 in 2000, up from 80,000 expected in 1990.

If the bond passed, the county promised two new libraries in Federal Way: The Woodmont Library and the Federal Way Regional Library. Voters approved and, in December 1991, the regional branch opened.

Today, regional library patrons sit in the periodicals stacks to read the latest issues of newspapers and magazines. Nearby, groups of students sit at long tables, huddled over homework problems.

Just inside the entrance to the library, past the shelves of recommended books, lines of people use the computer banks to access the library catalogue or check email. Still others peruse the fiction and non-fiction stacks for something interesting to read.

Young children chatter and laugh in the kids’ section, where colorful, hardbound books line the shelves arranged in a square to create a special place for them.

The library has been extremely well used, according to Bill Ptacek, King County Library System director, noting the amount of people there every day.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565,

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