Opinion: Two libraries, no progress for Gladstone, Oak Lodge
In 2008, Clackamas County voted and passed a new county library district that would forever stabilize library services for everyone. People in Gladstone and Oak Grove optimistically thought this would mark the beginning of their new badly needed libraries. That was 16 years ago.
Two lawsuits, several elections, years of task-force meetings and one pandemic have all come and gone, and the libraries are stuck. The current delayed county library project is now in a situation that feels very familiar. We are once again in "library purgatory."
Work on the libraries is suspended due to a surge in construction costs, and the assumption is that costs will eventually go down. But there is no indication that that will happen. In fact, construction costs could also continue to rise. One Oregon state economist says commodity prices are starting to come down, but hand-finished products like plumbing and HVAC equipment are still going up. Combine that with critical labor shortages and widespread wage increases, and there's absolutely no guarantee that waiting six, nine or even 12 months to begin construction will lower the final costs.
I urge Chair Tootie Smith and the Board of County Commissioners to prioritize the county's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the two new county libraries and restart these projects. The two library buildings will have lasting economic impact on Gladstone and Oak Grove. Citizens will know and remember who made this happen. Libraries are investments people can visualize that will support thousands of Clackamas County citizens.
Commissioner Martha Schrader, a former educator, has been a lifelong supporter of libraries. Commissioner Paul Savas has actively attended almost all of the Library Task Force meetings. Commissioner Sonya Fischer already knows the benefits libraries provide to kids and families, especially after the disruptive school shutdowns in the past two years. And Commissioner Mark Shull, a Sandy resident, has one of the best local libraries in the county. Shouldn't we all have a great library like Sandy's? And finally, Chair Tootie Smith could actively show her support for these libraries by rescinding this hold. There's no reason to wait.
So I'm asking the board to move this project out of library purgatory. As the current board, you will likely never again have access to a substantial monetary windfall like the ARPA funds. This is a one-time leap of faith. What you do with it matters. You could dump it all into a new courthouse that would serve a handful of people, or you could use some of the ARPA funding to complete these two libraries constituents will use every single day.
Sixteen years. This shouldn't be so difficult. Please reconsider the hold on the county library projects, and let's get these going again.
Nancy Eichsteadt, a resident of Gladstone for 35 years, is a member of the Gladstone Library Task Force and serves as an alternate member of the Clackamas County Library Board.
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