Three cities eyed for overhauls to libraries

Ridgefield, Washougal, Woodland top library district's big project wish list

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Did you know?

• About 30 percent of residents of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District used a library card at least once in 2012.

New or expanded libraries in three cities top the list of potential projects for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District.

The branch libraries in Ridgefield, Washougal and Woodland are considered inadequate and are tabbed as Category I projects in a new planning study that was just released.

About 40 other potential projects would upgrade services across the 4,200-square-mile district. They range from creating an Orchards library to developing a mobile app.

The study is not the rollout for a bond measure. Library officials call it a starting point in discussing the best ways to serve almost 450,000 people in four counties.

The discussion began last Monday at a library board retreat that included library foundation leaders and a team from the consulting firm that did the study.

The plan gives the library district a chance to redefine its role, said John White, with consulting firm BergerABAM. It can go from a provider of community services to a community catalyst, White said during the board retreat at Three Creeks Community Library.

The board of trustees already has approved $500,000 for each of the three Category I communities. The seed money will enable nonprofit Friends of the Library groups in Ridgefield, Washougal and Woodland to determine their own needs, suggest some design concepts, explore fundraising opportunities and look for possible local partnerships.

Talks going on

"We are in discussions with all three communities," Nancy Tessman, executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, said.

All three branches are 2,400 square feet or less. They are inadequate, Tessman said, and things will get even tighter as the three communities grow.

All three are housed in space leased from other community agencies. Ridgefield's library is in the Ridgefield Community Center; the plan calls for building a new library or expanding the current Ridgefield branch.

The Washougal and Woodland libraries are in city-owned buildings; the facilities plan recommends building new branches.

"The Woodland library is totally inadequate," said Noel Johnson, who is part of the Woodland campaign. "It is way too small."

The two-story Woodland facility, which was built in 1909, has access and safety issues, Johnson said.

All three projects have approximate price tags of $3.75 million. That includes significant levels of philanthropic funding and community contributions for each site.

The report proposes voter-approved bonds to fund about $2 million of the Washougal library; about $1.1 million of the Ridgefield project and about $970,000 of the Woodland library.

Another item further down the list also has a $3.75 million price tag: It's a Category II proposal to create an Orchards library, in an area of Clark County that is not adequately served by the district.

Community leadership

The Orchards library concept doesn't have the same priority because it lacks many of the built-in municipal elements that can help Ridgefield, Washougal and Woodland get off to a running start. The three cities have "Friends of the Library" groups that can generate support; the cities also have public agencies and civic groups as prospective partners.

The Ridgefield, Washougal and Woodland projects will evolve at different paces, Tessman said. That's because the facilities plan puts the project leadership in the hands of the communities, not the library board.

Each community will have the opportunity to shape its own building program after determining space and size and site considerations, she said.

To some degree, that puts the three projects in competition with each other, White of BergerABAM said. The first one to emerge with leadership and necessary assets — including land and a workable plan — "gets the attention," White said.

And if people aren't exactly fighting to be first in line? No worries.

"You don't ever have to feel guilty," White told the trustees, said, "when you bring an opportunity and the community goes, 'Ehhh?' "