Islanders want library to stay in town, according to survey

Ann Leda Shapiro reads a poem about the library’s location to the library system’s board. Islanders Wendy Finkleman, her son Oliver and her father-in-law Jack Churchill listen. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Ann Leda Shapiro reads a poem about the library’s location to the library system’s board. Islanders Wendy Finkleman, her son Oliver and her father-in-law Jack Churchill listen.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

More than 70 percent of those responding to an Island-wide survey about the Vashon library’s location said they’d like to see it remain in Ober Park, while 21 percent said they’d prefer to see the branch move to K2.

And when asked their feelings about the branch remaining in the town core, more than 80 percent said that was “very important” or “somewhat important” to them, while nearly 20 percent said they considered a town-core location “not important.”

“I’d call that a landslide in favor of the town core,” said Jean Bosch, president of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council and a key player on the committee that crafted the survey. “I think that this is a very clear message.”

But Truman O’Brien, one of two Islanders working to redevelop the K2 site a mile south of town, discounted the results, calling the survey invalid because it was a “self-select survey,” not a scientifically conducted, random sampling of the Island.

“It’s meaningless,” he said. “It’s information that’s not worth anything. And we told them that from the beginning.”

The survey — an attempt to inform the King County Library System as it determines the future location of a new Vashon branch — was conducted by the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, with support from King County Councilman Dow Constantine’s office. It was mailed to the Island’s 8,150 registered voters; 2,269 responded — or about 28 percent.

The survey results were issued Monday, less than a week after a KCLS board meeting in Issaquah, where dozens of Vashon residents weighed in on the issue. More than 40 Islanders made the trek to the Eastside, and many remained in the KCLS board room for more than four hours for an opportunity to speak to the four-member board. About 30 people signed up to testify; all but a few spoke in support of the library remaining in Ober Park.

It was the third time Islanders have traveled off-Island to let board members know where they think a new branch should be located and the largest turnout to date, some said.

As in past gatherings, Islanders told board members that the move out of town would be a disappointment to Vashon’s families, who enjoy the library’s proximity to the park and other town services. Others said it would be hard for the senior citizens who live in the apartments and modest homes near the branch.

The neighborhood clustered around the library “is home to the highest concentration of low-income, disabled and elderly people on the Island,” many of whom don’t have cars, Islander Leslie Ferriel said, reading from a letter she and nine other members of the Vashon HouseHold board signed.

“The proximity of the library to our town park provides a convenient, safe and healthy place for children and teens to gather, drawing families to the library who may otherwise not come frequently,” she told the board.

Bill Ameling, a member of the Vashon Park District, which owns the land the current library sits on, told board members that Islanders are, as a lot, tenacious and determined and, if given the nod, could figure out how to make an Ober selection work.

“If you choose Ober Park, Vashon will find a way,” he said.

Four people spoke in favor of the library’s move to K2, including Walter Weston, a business banker who lives on Vashon and who told the board he supports not just the library’s move to the K2 site, but the larger vision developers O’Brien and Dick Sontgerath have for the cavernous building. K2 Commons, as O’Brien and Sontgerath have dubbed their development, would recycle an existing building, provide much-needed space for new and small businesses and put the library in close proximity to Vashon’s three public schools, Weston told the board.

Board members and staff sat quietly throughout the gathering, showing little reaction to the sometimes emotional appeals. But at the end of the meeting, board members told staff to look into several of the issues raised during the four-hour hearing — including the condition of the K2 site, the adequacy of its water supply and concerns about pedestrian safety walking to and from the site, said board member Rob Spitzer.

Asked if the testimony would have an impact on the board, Spitzer responded, “How could it not?”

“I’m very impressed with the level of commitment and passion the people on Vashon have,” he added.

The survey, too, will likely make an impression on the board, he said.

“We’re just doing our best to make a sound, reasoned decision on the behalf of the system and the community of Vashon,” he added.

The survey, undertaken by an ad-hoc community council committee chaired by Islander Tim Morrison, included three questions, all of which tried to explore the issue of whether Islanders wanted to see the branch remain at Ober Park or move to the K2 site. It also looked at the issue of whether a site within the town core was important to Islanders.

Several Island-ers, including Hilary

Emmer, Alice Lar-son, Martin Koenig and K2 developers

O’Brien and Sont-gerath, served on the committee. They met three times and, according to a report drafted by Larson about the process, exchanged several hundred e-mails and invested “extensive hours of volunteer time.”

Larson said she thinks the effort was successful.

“We put a lot of effort into this. And we’ve got a good response. And we’re certainly hoping the library board will pay attention to what the residents of Vashon seem to feel,” she said.

But Bill Ptacek, who heads the King County Library System, said he believes people weighed in on the issue “without knowing all the important details.”

“Typically the library board does not base a siting decision on a survey,” he said. “It may be a factor but certainly not the definitive factor.”

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