County backs library system expansion
The Multnomah Board of County Commissioners expressed strong support last week 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," said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.
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 they loved going to the library as children. Jayapal said she was thrilled when the librarian would recommend a series with lots of books.
Jayapal, like the others, agreed 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," she said.
Chair Deborah Kafoury noted "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 election. Of that, the proposed East County flagship would cost about $125.2 million.
The Multnomah County Board, acting as the Library Board, likely will 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.
Multnomah County libraries are the fourth busiest in the nation and rank 102nd in square footage. All of the Multnomah County libraries, including the downtown Portland Central Library, would fit in Seattle's downtown library.
Library executives told the board that many of the branches are small, crowded and the meeting spaces are overbooked.
Children are sometimes turned away from storytimes. Some branches have to turn down 70% of requests for meeting rooms. And there are insufficient quiet study rooms in branches, the executives said.
People check out more holds through the tiny, bustling Belmont branch every year than the Central Library.
The proposed bond also would pay for rebuilding and expanding six other branches elsewhere in the county. It would create a centralized and more efficient materials handling center to move books and materials around to all the branches. There also would be seismic improvements to library buildings and the branches would be made more accessible for people with disabilities.
The proposed sorting, storage and distribution facility would be about 45,000 square feet and would cost about $32.6 million. It would make the system more efficient, library executives argued, and would free up space in some of the libraries.
The Midland, Albina, Belmont and St. Johns branches all would be expanded and remodeled. Holgate, Albina and Capitol Hill branches would be replaced with new, larger libraries.
The proposal calls for finishing all this work in 2027.
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 there, 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.
Construction on the East County flagship likely would not begin until 2022.
The idea for a big East County library, sorting center and branch improvements was made public in June 2017 in a 100-page report called "Framework for Future Library Spaces." The library held dozens of meetings, focus groups and conducted surveys to come up with proposals based on community desires.
The resulting report outlined the needs of the entire library system and plans to meet those needs over time.
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