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Proposed $405 million bond would fund Gresham area flagship facility and expand 6 branches

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Shawn Cunningham, director of communications and strategic initiatives for the Multnomah County Library, Vailey Oehlke, director of libraries, Annie Lewis, early childhood services supervisor and Kirby McCurtis, library manager discussed the plans for more and better library space before the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners.  The Multnomah Board of County Commissioners expressed strong support for a proposal by the Multnomah County Library system to spend $405 million to build a huge "flagship" library in East Multnomah County and make other significant improvements to the system countywide.

In an approximately one-hour presentation on Thursday, Jan. 30, library officials detailed the need for additional and improved library space and plans to address some of the demand.

"I do feel the real need in our community to make this investment," Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, said she is "so excited" about the prospects for library expansion and improvement.

She, like the other commissioners related stories about how her family loved going to the library when she was a child. Jayapal said she was thrilled when the librarian would recommend a series of stories with several books.

Jayapal, like the others, agreed that a vibrant library system is vital to the health and well being of a community.

"At a time when people don't trust their civic institutions, they trust the library," Jayapal said.

Chair Deborah Kafoury said "we are lacking in public spaces and one of the only truly public spaces is the library."

Library supporters also showed up in large numbers, filling the meeting room.

The library has suggested a bond of roughly $405 million for the November 2020 ballot. The proposed East County flagship will cost about $125.2 million.

The Multnomah County board, acting as the library board, is tentatively scheduled to vote at its March meeting on whether to put a bond on the November 2020 ballot. The proposed $405 million eight-year bond would cost about $12 per month in new taxes for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

The proposed "flagship" library in East Multnomah County would be about 95,000 square feet and would rival the Central Library in downtown Portland in size and services. As a comparison, the downtown Portland Central Library has 103,000 square feet of public space. The new flagship would be more than four times the size of the Gresham Library, which is 19,300 square feet.

The area east of Interstate 205 has long been underserved by the Multnomah County Library system.

Forty percent of Multnomah County's population lives east of Interstate 205 and only 24% of the library's footprint is present in the area, making it the lowest ratio of any of the library's regions.

East Multnomah County has only 0.19 square feet of library space per person, compared to 0.44 square feet for the "north" sector of the county, for example.

The proposed bond would also pay for rebuilding and expanding six other branches elsewhere in the county. Additionally, funds would help create a centralized and more efficient materials handling center to move books and materials around to all the branches. There would also be seismic improvements to library buildings and the branches would be made more accessible for people with disabilities.

Construction on the East County flagship likely would not begin until 2022.

The idea for a big East County library was made public (and detailed in The Outlook) in June of 2017 in a 100-page report called "Framework for Future Library Spaces." The report outlined the needs of the entire library system and plans to meet those needs over time.


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