The shelves are barren and empty. A checkout counter has yet to be installed. And on a rainy morning last week, it was icy cold in the cavernous space at the southern end of Vashon Plaza.
But in a matter of weeks, said Jan Riley, operations supervisor for the Vashon Library, she expects that this long-vacant storefront near the Vashon post office will be transformed into a vibrant and busy hub, with thousands of volumes lining the shelves, posters adorning the walls and readers young and old leafing through books.
“We think this space will work well,” she said last week, as she walked through the empty site.
At 4,800 square feet, it won’t be as spacious or easy to use as the current 6,000-square-foot library, she said. “But we have a really competent staff. They’re quick learners.”
And soon, she added, the stark storefront will be much like the current branch adjacent to Ober Park — “a community center for a lot of people.”
The King County Library System (KCLS) is close to breaking ground on a long-awaited remodel of the bustling Vashon branch, a $6 million project that will nearly double the size of the building. Last week, according to Greg Smith, the library system’s director of facilities and development, KCLS marked two significant milestones: It selected a general contractor — Beisley Inc., based in Belfair — and got word from King County that its building permit was finally approved.
Now, library officials are gearing up for the move to their temporary digs at Vashon Plaza. They expect the move will take place at the beginning of February, closing down the
branch for about a week while they make the transition.
“We’re feeling good to finally see some momentum and to see the project finally get going,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time.”
Indeed, the bond that is funding the branch expansion passed in 2004, and over the last several years a spate of issues has dogged the project. KCLS and the Vashon Park District, which owns the property the branch library occupies, locked horns early on about the impact a larger library might have on the popular park and its berms, prompting KCLS to consider a move to the K2 site a mile south of town. That, in turn, prompted an outcry from several islanders, who went to the board that governs KCLS to try to convince the administration to keep the branch at Ober Park.
The administration finally agreed to keep the branch at Ober Park, secured a new lease agreement with the park district and — more than two years ago — returned to the community with three potential designs for a 4,000-square-foot expansion at the current site. Once a design was selected, KCLS entered the next protracted round of discussions — these with King County permitting officials. It took 13 months for KCLS to secure a building permit, Smith said
“This was longer than we expected,” Smith said. “Their website says 120 days.”
Terrence Wagner, an architect with the Seattle firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, hired by the library system to design the remodel, said a few issues added to the project’s complexity and slowed down the permitting process.
Most notably, he said, was the fact that the KCLS branch sits on land owned by another public agency. As a result, he said, “Whenever something had to be signed, it had to … go through two bureaucracies, not just one.”
Another complexity was the county’s requirement that the library system widen the sidewalk along Vashon Highway, a plan KCLS initially objected to because of the potential costs and the impact sidewalk-widening could have on the row of stately maples that line the street. Wagner said KCLS worked out that dispute with the county by agreeing to expand the sidewalk west — into the road’s shoulder — rather than east, carving it into the berm.
“The trees were a huge deal; we didn’t want to get into those trees,” Wagner said.
In a few weeks, a cyclone fence will go up around the site, demarcating a construction zone that will close off a portion of the park to the public as well as the actual library site. Wagner, too, is pleased that construction is about to begin, adding that he thinks the community will be happy with the results.
Floor-to-ceiling windows will give library users an expansive view of the park and the playground. The meeting room will be almost twice as large and will have a movable wall, giving staff flexibility to create an even larger library space for patrons. Two small study rooms — where a tutor, for instance, could meet with students — will be added.
A green roof — covered with sedums and other low-growing plants — will create a better system of storm-water management, Wagner said. Also as part of the project, the grassy area in front of the library — a swath that is often soggy — will be resodded and new drainage will be installed.
“I think we’re going to create a spot that’s more usable to the public,” Wagner said of the area that’s now often inundated with water.
Meanwhile, library staff will do their best to make their temporary digs comfortable and user-friendly, adding “little touches to make it homier,” Riley said.
The new space will hold just as many volumes and computer stations as the current library, she said. There will also be a children’s section, made as cozy and warm as possible. A book drop will be placed in front of the building. The library will continue to get new books. The branch hours will remain the same.
Gone, however, will be the well-used meeting room. A small alcove with a partition in front of it will provide some privacy for those who want to meet there, including Hilary Emmer, who provides free tax preparation services to those who make less than $25,000.
The library will continue to offer its other popular programs — from story time for children to opera previews with Norm Hollingshead — but nearly all of the events and meetings will be held at other sites on Vashon, including the senior center, the Land Trust Building, Vashon Methodist Church and Playspace. (See the adjacent box for more information.)
“We went around the community and found a lot of other places. Everybody’s been really great about it,” Riley said.
Another issue is that the temporary library will be adjacent to the batting cages operated by Vashon Youth Baseball & Softball; an interior wall will separate the two sites. Riley expects there will be some afternoons and evenings when library patrons will hear the sounds of balls reverberating against the wall. “I’m waiting to hear what that sounds like,” she said.
But Riley and other staff members believe the temporary site — expected to be in use 12 to 18 months — will work well, and she’s pleased they were able to secure it. Indeed, for Riley, the site brings back memories. When she moved to Vashon in the 1970s, the site was a bowling alley. “I used to take my kids bowling there,” Riley said.
She hopes the branch’s presence will bring some more life and energy to the often quiet Vashon Plaza. “It was much more of a happening place,” she said. “I hope this helps to rejuvenate it.”
Library program locations
The Vashon Library will continue to offer programs, but many will be held at community sites rather than at the temporary branch location. Look for announcements at the library, on its website — www.kcls.org/vashon — or in The Beachcomber.
Some locations have been determined. Here are a few:
• Storytime will be held at Playspace. Patrons do not need to be members of Playspace to attend.
• Computer classes will be held at the senior center.
• ESL classes will be held at the Methodist Church.
• Opera previews will be held at the Senior Center.
• Teen night will be held at the new library site.
• Tax preparation with Hilary Emmer will be held at the new library site.