Library system to hold public gathering on K2 site

After weeks of controversy over the location of the Vashon library, the King County Library System (KCLS) plans to hold a community meeting on the Island to discuss its plans to move the branch from Ober Park to the proposed K2 Commons.

The decision to hold what KCLS is calling an “evening of conversation” next Wednesday night came after a meeting last week organized and facilitated by King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Several key Islanders were at the meeting, as were KCLS director Bill Ptacek and members of his board.

“We saw this when we met with Dow,” Ptacek said, referring to a need to hold a community meeting on Vashon. “It’s important for everyone in the community to have the information. We want to make sure everyone has the information we have and the facts we have.”

The 10,000-square-foot former machine shop at the K2 complex continues to be KCLS’s preferred location for a long-promised new branch on the Island, Ptacek said. At the same time, he said, the library system is holding off on signing a purchase and sale agreement with K2 developers Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien until after the public meeting.

“There are lots of different perspectives in the community, and we want to hear them,” Ptacek said.

Others, however, questioned the purpose of the meeting and whether KCLS officials are genuinely open to reconsidering the decision to move the branch from Ober Park.

Jean Bosch, who heads the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council and who was at the meeting organized by Constantine, said she offered to have the community council sponsor a public gathering about the library’s location but only if it were for the purpose of garnering what she called “meaningful public input.”

KCLS officials did not take her up on that offer, however, saying “in so many words” that they weren’t interested in that kind of meeting, she said.

“That was certainly my impression,” she added. “I think they’re having the meeting because Dow Constantine wants them to have a meeting. ... But if nothing else, at least they’re coming to talk to us.”

Bill Ameling, a commissioner for the Vashon Park District who has attempted to bring KCLS back to the table to reconsider its decision to leave the park, was more blunt in his assessment.

“The public meeting’s a farce,” he said. “They’re going to come here to tell us what they’re doing and why.”

The issue of the location of a new Vashon branch — promised as part of a $172 million bond measure voters approved in 2004 — has garnered considerable interest in the last few weeks, after news broke that KCLS was on the verge of signing a purchase and sale agreement with the K2 Commons developers.

A handful of Islanders held a protest in the library’s foyer a month ago, and a petition is now circulating asking KCLS to keep the library in Ober Park.

Some residents say they appreciate having the library next to one of the only public playgrounds on the Island; others say they like it remaining in the town core, a location that was identified as important in a much-vetted town plan crafted more than a decade ago.

KCLS officials, however, say the Ober Park site no longer works. Remodeling and enlarging the existing library created difficulties with the landlord — the Vashon Park District — which doesn’t want to see part of the park give way to a building structure. The park district, meanwhile, had suggested another site — the parking lot next to its existing park district building — even offering it up free of charge and agreeing to tear down the park district building at no charge to KCLS so as to ensure the library system had the space it needed for both parking and a new 10,000-square-foot structure, David Hackett, the head of the park district board, said.

But Hackett and others from the Island learned at the meeting with Constantine that KCLS has determined the Ober Park site offered up by the park district won’t work because of county codes governing surface water issues, he said. In an e-mail he sent to several Islanders last week, he wrote, “It would have been nice to know this two years ago, because it would have saved us all much trouble and anguish.”

Hackett, however, said he’s ready to let go of the fight to try to keep the library at Ober Park, in large part because it’s clear to him KCLS is determined to leave the site.

“In the end, I’m just not seeing any interest in the Ober Park site,” he said.

“It’s their decision,” he added. “We can’t chain ourselves to the library. We can’t do anything.”

What’s more, he said, the K2 site has certain advantages. Should it buy a new structure, KCLS is adding 10,000 square feet to Vashon’s public space, a net gain that provides more opportunities to Islanders, he said. There’s talk, for instance, of having the Vashon Senior Center move to the library building and having Vashon Community Care Center’s adult day program move to the senior center building.

“Those and a gazillion other things are options that become open if we have a net 10,000 square feet gain in public space,” Hackett said.

Ameling agreed.

“The library really belongs at Ober Park,” he said. “But if it goes, the building won’t go to waste.”


The meeting about the Vashon library's future will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, in McMurray Middle School.

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