September 22, 2022
Vote Yes for Our Library
Mark Madsen

Computers for kids sit close to bookshelves at the San Juan Island Library. Islanders will have the opportunity in the November election to approve funding for a new facility that would, among other upgrades, allow dedicated space for a number of activities. (Courtesy photo)

September 22, 2022
Vote Yes for Our Library
Mark Madsen

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

The San Juan Island Library’s project to build a new library building on Spring Street in Friday Harbor is well underway, and this fall the district seeks voter approval.

Our library is more than collections of books and materials. It is a community hub providing essential services to children, seniors, and adults seeking educational and recreational materials and activities. Our library is a key participant with other organizations that work hard to meet the needs of the whole community.

The library is an essential tool for strengthening our community, and that support is especially important to working parents and low-to-middle income families.

But — the current library facility is bursting at the seams, and the building is increasingly costly to maintain. Our population has increased by more than 50% since the Library attained its current size and capacity in 1995, 27 years ago.

There has been no room to create more space for materials, no way to provide additional meeting space, no way to create quiet spaces, and no way to improve and expand parking. More and more library funding goes into repairing and maintaining an aging, inadequate facility.

It is time to change that.

For San Juan Island residents, the upcoming ballot includes San Juan Island Library District Proposition No. 1, authorizing the district to issue up to $12 million in bonds for up to 21 years to finance the construction of a new library at 660 Spring Street in Friday Harbor.

The project has been in the planning stages since 2015. In 2020, the district was able to purchase 660 Spring Street. The property had been vacant, and at the time of our purchase was lacking any other bids — public or private.

The site is perfect for our new library — close to the center of town, close to schools, the Mullis Senior Center, and it will dramatically increase the space available for library facilities, activities, and greatly improved parking. If approved, detailed planning for the site will begin in 2023 and will include public input.

The full project will cost approximately $20 million, and will be financed with a combination of the bond proceeds, a private fundraising campaign (now underway) and grant applications to private foundations and the State’s Library Capital Improvement Program fund.

If approved, the cost to property owners on San Juan Island will be approximately $88/year for a $500,000 home, and $132/year for a $750,000 home, over a 20-year period.

In our conversations with people, there are many common questions. Why can’t the library stay at the current location and expand and improve the facilities? The simple answer is that extensive studies in 2017-2018 concluded that this was not possible. Why can’t the existing building at 660 Spring Street be used instead of constructing a new building? A 2019 feasibility study concluded that the old building would be more expensive to bring up to modern code and adapt for library use than new construction.

But perhaps the biggest questions surround community priorities. Affordable housing and the cost of living are problems for our island community. At first glance, the new library may not seem to directly address those concerns.

But our library has become an essential service for many who are affected by the difficult economics of living here. The services provided by the Library — available to all on an equal basis — are increasingly expensive to procure privately, like up to date computers and laptops, WiFi hotspots, digital projector, internet access, mobility equipment, telescope, binoculars, Washington State Parks Discover Passes, early-learning toys, and much more.

Many parents count on the library to help provide after school programs, particularly when schools have early release. When ESL classes could not be provided by Skagit Valley College, our library took up the challenge and has been running the program for years.

Simply put, the library is part of the fabric of services and programs that help make life possible, and more affordable, on San Juan Island. In order to continue providing those services and expand them to meet the community’s needs, the library needs the space and facilities to do so.

Building the new library at 660 Spring Street is a community investment in the future of this community, and a way to help address the challenges many face in living here.

Vote Yes For Our SJ Library is a group of island residents, parents, businesspeople, and volunteers, and we support the new library and urge you to do so as well. Please support this essential community resource and build the new library at 660 Spring Street.

Please vote YES on your November ballot for San Juan Island Library District Proposition No. 1!

— Contributed by Mark Madsen, on behalf of the Vote Yes For Our Library Campaign Committee

Salish Current welcomes letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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