Editorial: Library decision shines a fine light on Vashon

The decision by the King County Library System’s Board of Trustees directing library staff to negotiate a new lease so that the branch can remain at Ober Park is a testament to the power of a grassroots citizens’ movement.

A story in The Beachcomber last year noting that library director Bill Ptacek was poised to sign a purchase-and-sale agreement to move the branch to the K2 site struck some in the community as a clarion call to action.

A handful of Islanders organized: They contacted their elected representatives; secured the e-mail addresses of the library system’s trustees; found out the board’s meeting dates; convinced others to join the cause; and began traveling to the trustees’ board meetings — an often time-consuming journey to Issaquah, where the board usually met.

At times, the meetings were acrimonious, such as a public gathering on Vashon where some stood up and spoke harshly to Ptacek. Other times, there was good theater — when Islander Logan Price, for instance, gave trustees copies of the book “Fahrenheit 451” or the priceless moment, after the board’s decision last week, when Ann Leda Shapiro walked up to the front of the room and gave Ptacek a kiss on the cheek.

In some ways, this was the Island’s spirit — passionate, feisty, colorful, independent — at its best. That spirit is sometimes hard on Vashon; it sometimes leads to divisive debates, harsh words, political impasses. In this instance, a handful of Islanders — from Martin Koenig to Jean Bosch — was able to take the immense frustration some felt over the library system’s seemingly cavalier attitude towards the Island and channel it into positive, thoughtful action. Action that ultimately made a difference.

But the saga’s not over.

First, the library system’s decision leaves the question of K2 Commons up in the air. Though K2 developers Truman O’Brien and Dick Sontgerath say they’ll continue to move forward on their ambitious plans, some close to the project have noted that the library system’s purchase of the 10,000-square-foot machine shop would have provided a much-needed infusion of cash into the venture.

O’Brien and Dick Sontgerath have worked hard and poured countless hours into a vision for their project, a quasi-community center that has stirred its own whirlwind of controversy. Even so, the project has merit and deserves to continue to be vetted openly and well by the community. We hope this decision by the library system’s board doesn’t sound its death knell.

Second, the library system is, arguably, back to square one with its plans to build a bigger library on Vashon. We’ve spent two years in what amounts to an argument over its location. It’s now imperative that Ptacek work well with the Island — and the Island work well with Ptacek — so that we can actually move forward on the long-promised larger branch, a new library we approved in a vote five years ago.

The work’s not over. We need to continue to press. But let’s do so in a spirit of goodwill and repair, so that we can someday celebrate a different win for the community: a new library.

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