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Protesters say library should stay put

Angie Hussman, center, and Patricia Braga collected signatures at a low-key protest at the Vashon Library Monday. On the floor are Hussman’s two sons, Dylan and Keegan. All told, about 10 protesters showed up. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Angie Hussman, center, and Patricia Braga collected signatures at a low-key protest at the Vashon Library Monday. On the floor are Hussman’s two sons, Dylan and Keegan. All told, about 10 protesters showed up.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Several Islanders showed up at the Vashon Library Monday not to check out books or log on to the Internet but to ask the King County Library System to reconsider its decision to move the branch a mile down the road.

Toting signs that said “Don’t move library,” the group stood in the library’s small foyer and asked people to sign a petition urging library administrators to keep the branch at Ober Park.

“I’ve never organized a protest before,” said Bonnie Nelson, who spearheaded Monday’s event. “But I feel strong about this. I feel the library needs to be here.”

“I walk here often,” added Angie Hussman, who stood in the foyer with her two sons, ages 5 and 8. “I know several single parents who come here and use the computers for their resumes and other work. To move it to a place that’s not accessible is a bad idea.”

Several Islanders agreed and stopped to sign their petition, though a few declined.

“We need more space for books. We need more space for cars,” Islander Robin Hess told the group as he walked past.

The protest marked the latest development in the long-running saga over the future of Vashon’s well-used and much-loved library.

King County library officials promised Islanders a new, 10,000-square-foot branch after voters approved a countywide $172 million capital bond in September 2004. The Island was one of more than 40 communities in the county in line to get a new or improved facility.

But because the library system owns the building at Ober Park while Vashon Park District owns the land beneath it, the two agencies had to figure out where in Ober Park a new branch could be built before ground could be broken.

The effort unraveled about a year ago, when the library system, citing financial issues, said it wanted to expand and renovate the current branch, rather than build a new structure. Park officials balked, however, saying they wouldn’t renew the library system’s lease at Ober Park under such a scenario because it appeared in architectural renderings that the park’s popular berms or other green space could be bulldozed in the process of renovating the building, park board chairman David Hackett recalled.

Since then, library officials have blamed the park district for the impasse, saying Hackett and his board have forced library officials to look for a new site. The park district board, meanwhile, has written a letter to the library system saying it’s willing to continue discussions.

Now, according to library officials, they’re days away from signing a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the former machine shop at the K2 site, where they’d spend $2 million to $3 million restoring it.

The location is perfect, the library system says on its Web site: “K2 Commons is within walking distance of Vashon College and other public schools, and since the Vashon Allied Arts group just bought an adjoining corner, the area is anticipated to become the cultural, educational, health (and) entertainment center for the Island.”

Several Islanders, however, have complained to King County Councilman Dow Constantine about the apparent stalemate. And now Constantine, who has played the role of mediator before, is working to bring all the parties together; a meeting with the park district, the library district and a few key Islanders is tentatively scheduled for next week.

“It remains the position of my board ... that we’re willing to talk. But we can’t force these guys to talk with us,” Hackett said. “I’ll be damned if I say, ‘Do whatever you want with our park.’”

At the protest, meanwhile, several Islanders said they were frustrated by the library system’s decision to pursue the K2 site without any public discussion about it.

“We would like to be heard,” Nelson said.

Sam Hendricks, the head of Vashon HouseHold, which has developed affordable housing within walking distance to the library, said he, too, was surprised by the lack of public input.

“I just can’t believe they’re willing to do this without a public hearing,” he said.

Jean Bosch, who chairs the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council and who will be at the meeting Constantine holds next week, said she plans to continue to do what she can to see the library remain at Ober Park.

Stressing that she was representing herself, not the community council, at the protest and in communications with Constantine, she added that she remains concerned about the turn of events.

“I will keep working on this,” she said. “It’s my personal hope that we can make a difference.”

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