Supporters of new Ridgefield library eager for more progress

They’re raising money, awareness, but site selection for new branch moving too slowly for some

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

Published:

 

DID YOU KNOW?

• Ridgefield's 2,055-square-foot library has been in the Ridgefield Community Center, 210 N. Main Ave., since 1994.

• A 2014 facilities study done by FFA Architecture and Interiors Inc. recommended a new library of 12,941 square feet, to cost about $5 million.

• Fort Vancouver Regional Library District officials hope to schedule a community meeting in early 2018.

RIDGEFIELD — When a weekend festival brought hundreds of people downtown, Friends of Ridgefield Community Library sold some books and made a few dollars.

The Farmers Market appearance had other benefits.

“Public awareness, public awareness and public awareness,” Jeanne Androvich, the group’s president, said during the sale.

Ridgefield is one of three communities where grass-roots groups are campaigning to build new branches. Woodland has selected its site, currently the location of a funeral home. In Washougal, library officials are working on an agreement with a downtown developer.

And Ridgefield?

“We are trailing the pack, as far as a location,” said Tevis Laspa, a leader of the Friends’ fundraising effort.

So when it comes to visibility, events such as BirdFest give library supporters a chance to let their Friends flags fly. The nonprofit group is supporting a couple of high-profile players in the effort — the library district and the city of Ridgefield.

“It hasn’t felt a lot like progress lately,” said Amelia Shelley, executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District.

City Manager Steve Stuart looks at the process over a longer span, following the library district’s 2014 facilities report.

“Significant progress has been made since the analysis in 2014,” Stuart said.

It might not be reflected in a piece of real estate, Stuart said, but “there is good progress on looking at what we want to achieve.”

There is plenty the two parties agree on, including the potential for a productive partnership.

“The city council is incredibly supportive of getting a new library built,” Stuart said. Early in the planning process, library officials asked if the city council would partner with them to purchase or donate land, Stuart said.

Another shared principle came out of the 2014 facilities study.

“It was crystal clear,” Stuart said. “The community wanted to keep the library in downtown Ridgefield.”

“Downtown is the preferred location, which we understand really well,” Shelley said.

But they don’t agree on where to draw those lines.

“They would like to define downtown in a more narrow sense than us,” Shelley said.

The city’s boundaries were established for another civic initiative, Ridgefield Main Street: east to Fifth Street, south to Sargent Street, north to Division Street and west to Railroad Avenue.

Within that area, city officials prioritized two properties as possible library sites. A parking lot on the southeast corner of North Main Avenue and Simons Street used to be a dry cleaning business, resulting in chemical contamination. As a brownfield site, “it will require remediation in partnership with the Department of Ecology,” Stuart said.

The other site is at Main Avenue and Mill Street, near the post office. It has other issues, Shelley said. The post office’s property lines cut into the site; a slope to the west would require some creative design work for parking, entry ways and building management.

The preferred site for library officials was a portion of Davis Park. But with limited green space downtown, Stuart said, “The city council decided its highest and best use is as a park.”

Library officials also talked with Ridgefield Public Schools, which is involved in its own building campaign, but that dead-ended. Possible re-use of an old school building was not cost effective, Shelley said; it also was outside the city’s definition of downtown.

With the school district moving forward on its projects, “it looks likely that we will not be partnering with the library district,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said.

For now, “We’re treading water,” said Laspa, the Friends’ fund-raiser. He doesn’t seem all that surprised.

“We knew it would be a five-year effort before we got a library here,” the retired businessman said.

That is another principle that all participating parties seem to agree on.

It is “a long-term and expensive decision,” Shelley said, “and essential that we get it right.”