I'm sure I'm not the only one who read Thursday's headline "City searches for bigger space for valley library" and marveled at the absurdity of the situation.
The valley library is running out of space. It is currently in a convenient location in a struggling mall that is two-thirds empty. The city could presumably rent almost any amount of space in the nearby empty storefronts and adapt those areas to meet the library's needs. Instead the city is negotiating to buy a parcel of land on which to build a fancy new library. Retrofitting the mall spaces with the necessary electrical upgrades, bathrooms, partitions, etc. cannot begin to match the cost of land acquisition, planning and construction of a new, expensive building in a less convenient location.
Does this make sense in a city that can hardly afford to repair school buildings and buy textbooks for all the students? I shake my head in disbelief each time I hear the city officials discuss things like light rail when we can barely maintain an adequate public transport system that does not even offer service to the ferry terminal or when planners talk about costly overpasses where simple traffic lights would do the job. Now they are planning to build a new library when the existing one is surrounded by less-expensive expansion possibilities. I don't get it.
Projects like this inevitably cost more than the original estimates, that's the nature of government construction. Extravagant solutions to simple problems are often championed by planners who want to leave a "state-of-the-art" legacy for future generations. As the article points out, the character of libraries is changing. People are checking out less hard copy books as computers and the Internet change the way we access information. As things continue to change, those 20-year projections may be greatly impacted by many unforeseen factors. Instead of racing ahead with plans for a new library building, we should be looking at innovative ways to use the surrounding available space.
The people quoted in the article said they like the convenience of the mall location, so let's expand the library at its current site, and as a side benefit our library will continue to bring a little more life into a struggling local mall.
Phyllice Bradner Matson
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