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Library turns 15 in March. Contruction was contentious. Some neighbors preferred mixed-use building.

COURTESY OF MULTNOMAH COUNTY LIBRARY - This photo was taken  not long after construction of what was then the Southwest Hills branch of the Multnomah County Library in 1957.  This shows the back of the library where staff can be seen entering.Back at the turn of the last century, some people in Hillsdale weren't sure they wanted to build a new library on the Sunset Boulevard site of the library that opened in 1957. In fact, the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association voted to back a library building that included apartments in the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

But the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners went ahead with a plan to build a bigger and better branch on the existing site. The result was ground breaking even if the construction process was frustrating.

Friday, March 8, will be the 15th anniversary of the reopening of the Hillsdale Library in that building.

"They don't use the term Head Librarian any more," said Jay Hadley, branch manager. He's been in charge at Hillsdale since April 2016. And he said he's a big fan of the 12,000 square foot building.

"It's beautiful. Like many or our library buildings it is one big room and everything happens in this place. It's well-used, believe me. It can get lively, but everyone gets along. It's unique. We have no plans to change it," Hadley said.

The architect of the building back in 2000 was Thomas Hacker. Sarah Bell was just out of the Architecture College at the University of Oregon and beginning her career at Thomas Hacker & Associates when the library was completed.

"It was my first chance to see what's called a 'built project.' My heart beat faster when I walked in that first time," Bell said.

"It has a really nice scale. It feels intimate but it's expansive. It was Tom Hacker's favorite project and he was the architect on a lot of libraries around here. That building is very special for us," she said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MULTNOMAH COUNTY LIBRARY - This shows the front of the library at 1515 SW Sunset Boulevard.  This building closed in 2001.  The current library building opened on March 4, 2004."It's the appropriate scale for the neighborhood," she added. "I love the way it frames the views. Those huge windows are purposeful, they connect the library to the landscape."

When completed, the library was named a Certified Gold LEED Building. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It was the first LEED building in Portland.

"Everything was very, very efficient energy-wise, way ahead of its time. We used certified wood from Oregon grown in a very, very sustainable way," Bell said. "It was hard to source that kind of wood back then."

Hillsdale Library Branch Manager Jay Hadley.  Trees on Sunset Boulevard can be seen through the windows.Now, years after it was built, the man in charge of its operation said he admires "such comfortable seating areas near those corner windows. People absolutely love them because they can read magazines and newspapers so comfortably" Hadley said.

He's worked previously at the Gresham and Midland branches. "Libraries always reflect their community and what their community wants and can afford. Branches are similar but never the same. This one embraces the future," he said.

Bell of Hacker Architecture said that the neighborhood discussion over the replacement of the existing library was "contentious," adding, "Some people didn't even think they needed a new one. We had a robust dialog with the community. We turned around public feeling. It was a really successful public involvement process."

There were construction delays. The library was scheduled to reopen in August 2000. Then delays were announced and fall of 2002 became the completion date. The library was finally reopened in March 2004. The construction cost was estimated at the time to be $4.1 million.

Its most notable architectural features are a 20-foot-high ceiling, commanding views over Hillsdale, 10-square-foot skylights and its tubular steel roof.

According to Hadley, Hillsdale is the fifth busiest branch in Multnomah County when it comes to items checked out. Central, Midland, Gresham and Hollywood are the only branches that are busier.

In the month of November, 18,000 people visited to the branch. The shelves are lined with 75,000 books. In 2018, patrons put 1345,000 items on hold.

"That's our most popular service and Wi-Fi is the most popular feature," Hadley said. He is one of 19 paid staff at the Hillsdale Library. Volunteers fill 46 shifts each week.

Bill Gallagher

Editor

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