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Library signs pledge to move to K2

Saying it was the only way he could fulfill his promise to Island voters, the head of the King County Library System (KCLS) has pledged to move the Vashon Library to the proposed K2 Commons — should the ambitious redevelopment project come to fruition.

Bill Ptacek, KCLS’s executive director, recently signed a letter of intent to purchase a free-standing, 10,000-square-foot structure on the K2 property from K2 developers Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien. According to Ptacek, the library system would make good on the letter once Sontgerath and O’Brien purchase the entire K2 site from its current owners, Jarden Corp. The former machine shop, he added, could be transformed into what he called “a really cool” new library for the Island.

“With a really great architect, we could do great things with that building,” he said.

The site meets many of the criteria library officials have identified for the Vashon Library, including proximity to area schools, plenty of parking and an easy-to-find location, Ptacek said. It also would make good on the pledge the library system made — when it put forward a bond issue in May 2005 — to build the community a new 10,000-square-foot library. The current library is about 6,000 square feet.

“Given the fact that there aren’t a lot of options, we’ve identified one that satisfies all the criteria and that accomplishes what was promised in the bond issue,” he said.

The announcement is the latest in the long-running debate over the fate of Vashon’s library — a saga that has pitted the Issaquah-based library system against the Vashon Park District, which owns the land the current library occupies.

It also reflects the latest development at K2 Commons — Sontgerath and O’Brien’s effort to transform the former ski-manufacturing site into what they call a “multi-use community complex.” The two men have signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the 18-acre site with its 160,000-square-foot building and are still searching for investors to help fund the far-reaching project. K2 Corp. gave them a Dec. 15 closing date, O’Brien said.

They’ve also further fleshed out their dreams for the project. During a tour last week, O’Brien said they now plan to build 20 units of housing — a mix of small duplexes and single-story cottages for seniors — that would be situated along the western edge of the 18-acre property. They also hope to include in the project a 15-room inn and conference center, an indoor park and other amenities they’ve already made public — including a bowling alley, a fitness center with an indoor swimming pool, a cafe, a canning kitchen and the Vashon Health Center.

“Our investors will get a modest return, but what they’re investing in is the Island,” O’Brien said.

“This is a community asset,” he added. “This is going to be cutting edge.”

O’Brien said he and Sontgerath are particularly pleased that the library system has made a commitment to the project, noting that the free-standing structure will be transformed into a fantastic place by the library system.

“They plan to use world-class architects,” O’Brien said.

But KCLS’s decision to move the library out of Vashon town will likely garner criticism and disappointment from its patrons, many of whom enjoy its location next to a park and its proximity to apartments housing seniors.

Bill Ameling, a commissioner for the Vashon Park District, said he is particularly disappointed by the library system’s decision. He met with Ptacek and other top administrators earlier this year in an effort to resume discussions about keeping the library at Ober Park — the place where he believes the library belongs.

“You lose the synergy if you move the library,” he said.

“Why would you put a library in a used factory when you could have it in a park setting?” he added. “But they don’t care. They’re going to stick a library somewhere, and to hell with Vashon and the park district.”

Ptacek disagreed, saying it was the park district that closed the door on negotiations.

“I know people would like to see the library stay where it is. But it’s not an option for us,” he said.

At issue is the exact location of the library on the park district property.

Park district officials have suggested that KCLS should tear down the park district headquarters at Ober Park and build a new structure there. KCLS officials have said that approach would be too costly and would not result in a larger library; instead, they say, it makes more sense to remodel and expand the current structure.

The park district commissioners objected to that plan, arguing that a larger footprint on the park would take away green space Islanders want and need. As a result, the park district said, it would not renew KCLS’s lease on the site, set to expire in 2017.

“We have a commitment to a larger library. We’re going to be held to that commitment. And this is one way we can accomplish it,” Ptacek said of the KCLS decision to move to K2.

But Ameling said the issue is still far from resolved, since Sontgerath and O’Brien have yet to find the financing to purchase the building and redevelop it.

“I personally don’t think Truman and Dick have a project yet,” he said.

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