“How important is a library to a community?”

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake posed that rhetorical question a few weeks ago when he, Library Director Karen Hill and City Councilor Dave Schamp made their case to the News-Times editorial board for why homeowners should pass a $2.4 million bond measure to build a combination new library and affordable senior housing in the heart of the town.

Registered voters will have that opportunity in the Nov. 5 special election. Vote-by-mail ballots go out Oct. 18 and are due by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Nine years ago, Cornelius leaders attempted to replace the city’s well-used, 3,025-square-foot library on North Barlow Street, connected to City Hall. They floated an $11.5 million levy in 2004 that would have paid for an 11,000-square-foot building that included a community center, library, indoor pool and soccer facilities. Despite polls showing 55 percent of respondents were in favor of the project, the measure went down to defeat by a wide margin, with only 29 percent voting yes.

It was too big a chunk for residents to digest. This time around, however, the $2.4 million request is not just reasonable, it’s a bargain. That’s because it leverages $10.4 million more for Cornelius from partner organizations. It’s like paying someone $2 to give you back $10.

Who are the generous partners that would give all that money back to Cornelius if the levy passes? At the top of the list is Hillsboro-based Bienestar, which specializes in affordable housing located close to community services and mass transit. The nonprofit is on board to invest $8 million into the project in order to create 41 units of senior housing on the building’s second and third floors. In addition, the city would supplement bond proceeds with private donations and grant funds to pay the remaining $2.4 million of the project’s $12.8 million estimated total.

It sounds like a reasonable and collaborative venture, and that’s why we support the current bond levy, which is estimated to cost property owners 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. To put it in real-money terms, the owner of a home valued at $180,000 would pay $59 more a year in taxes when the new library comes on line.

Our endorsement comes with eyes wide open to Cornelius’s demographics. Half the city’s 12,000 residents are Hispanic, and city officials are working hard to reach those households with a bilingual message if the bond is to pass. In 2011, per-capita income in Cornelius averaged $16,473, while across Oregon that figure was $26,561. That same year, 17.5 percent of the city’s 12,000 citizens were living below the poverty line, compared to 14.8 percent statewide.

That’s some dreary data, indeed. But more recent figures show increased traffic through the library — including Hispanic patrons and their children. Since the library hired a Latino outreach coordinator with a grant from the Paul Allen Foundation, library use by Hispanics has increased exponentially. In the last six months, Hill said, 2,227 people have taken advantage of 97 programs offered by the library either entirely in Spanish or in English and Spanish. That includes steady attendance at the library’s popular Spanish family storytime on Saturdays.

Also, the Friends of the Cornelius Library had only 15 members back in 2004, Hill said. Today, that group is 100 members strong, and she thinks that shows some positive movement.

“In our rural community, library services are really essential,” said Hill, who has been with the library seven years. “There are not a lot of places for people to gather.”

Centro Cultural is “struggling to find additional space” for some of its too-full classes, added Schamp, who suggested the new building, which includes a community room, “could help with that.”

Drake is focused on muting the line between Anglos and Latinos — and sees a new library as a reasonable vehicle to help accomplish that.

“There’s interest in supporting this bond across all populations,” he said. “We are not two communities. We’re one community in Cornelius.”

Please vote “yes” on the library’s bond measure.

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