BATTLE GROUND — It’s a busy time for Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, and not solely due to Michelle Obama.
The former first lady’s memoir, “Becoming,” is one of the more in-demand books anyone can remember, and library staffers are trying to keep up with holds placed on the book, as well as with the amenities people want from a library in 2019.
“The demand is staggering. People are really embracing these new technologies,” said Amelia Shelley, executive director of Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries. “They want us to mirror the world in terms of speed and personalized service, which is challenging for us. E-materials are far more expensive for us than print in terms of up-front cost. We’re trying to watch and balance these things. We’re willing to try and change to meet needs that people want.”
While the 13 Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries branches are seeing a Harry Potter-like demand for the Obama book, Shelley said, the district is also undergoing some major changes. New buildings are expected to open in the coming years in Washougal, Ridgefield, Woodland and Brush Prairie.
The last new building Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries opened was the downtown Vancouver branch eight years ago.
“In 2013 and 2014, the district undertook a few different studies to find locations that need larger branches,” Shelley said. “We have been waiting for five years to find land, save up money and do what we need to do to make those happen.”
In the meantime, the district also looks to make regular upgrades at other branches. Battle Ground’s branch will close for three weeks starting Monday to undergo some refreshing.
Holland Christie, the branch manager in Battle Ground, said the library will receive new carpeting and new paint throughout the branch. The children’s area will be redesigned to make it more comfortable and welcoming. That section will also receive 30 sound panels on the walls to try to suppress the noise, which currently can carry to the other sections of the library.
“We worked with Beacock Music on what we could do to absorb some of the laughing children, which is a great noise,” Christie said. “We just don’t want people all throughout the library to hear it.”
The sound panels were paid for by the local Lions Club and Friends of Battle Ground Library. The teen area will also see some redesigning, and furniture from the rest of the library is being reupholstered.
Christie said the branch extended due dates so that no books will be due back while the branch is closed, although patrons can still return books to drop-off sites. Library staffers will also mail out books on hold while the branch is closed.
Shelley said providing those extra services is a way to show that the library is still a vital part of the community, even with society’s increased dependency on technology. E-books account for the fifth-largest group of circulating titles, and, overall, virtual use is about a third of the district’s total circulation, Shelley said.
“We’re still seeing really strong use of our libraries,” she said. “They provide places to study and community space. People are still checking out books, though. This is a good time to be investing in these communities and their growth. We see libraries as a reason of what makes communities great and livable.”
Here’s a look at the various other construction efforts going on around Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries:
The Ridgefield branch occupies about 2,000 square feet, but that’s going to at least quadruple — and the library won’t have to move to expand. The library board voted in May to accept a donation of the adjoining Ridgefield Community Center building. The Ridgefield Community Library has called a quarter of the building home since 1994.
The new Ridgefield Administrative and Civic Center, which opened in December, has space to host community groups and meetings. That means the library can take over the remaining roughly 8,000 square feet of the former community center. Shelley said the hope is that Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries can expand it a little more to get the building up to about 11,000 square feet overall.
Shelley said the district is close to hiring an architect for that project and is hopeful construction will start this fall. She said the plan is to redo the interior, so the building feels more connected. Currently, the library and community center space are separated by an entry hallway. While construction is going on, Shelley said, the branch will operate temporarily out of the former Umpqua Bank site.
She added that the library district has close to $3 million set aside for project, and the project is expected to cost somewhere around $3.8 million to $4 million.
Shelley wants people to know the site for the new Woodland library is not haunted. It is on the site of a former funeral home, but the building has been demolished to make way for the new library.
“I had to remind some people that nobody died there; they arrived that way,” she said. “It’s an interesting transition for sure. I feel like we’re continuing to serve the community, just in a different way.”
Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries purchased the 2.4-acre Woodland Funeral Home site, 828 Goerig St., for a little more than $1 million in May 2017. The district is waiting on a request for $515,000 in the state capital budget for help with design work. Shelley said the plan is to build a 10,000-square-foot building. The district currently has about $1 million set aside for the project, which is anticipated to cost around $4 million.
The next step will be to hire a conceptual architect, and to look at a recent traffic study to see what changes could or should be made to the intersection outside the library.
Shelley said the district also wants to build something that can serve all Woodland residents, as people who live outside city limits don’t pay for library service but can still get limited library cards. There has been talk of forming a library district for Woodland residents, which would encompass everyone living in the Woodland Public Schools boundary and would then partner with the district.
Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries is in current negotiations to have land donated for a new building in Washougal, and Shelley is hopeful the district will be able to announce where that is sometime this spring. If so, they can start studying the area and looking at architects, like they’re doing in Woodland.
Washougal’s branch is currently about 2,000 square feet located in city hall, and Shelley said the hope is to build a new location that’s around 12,000 square feet. She anticipates that project could also cost somewhere in the $4 million to $5 million range.
“Washougal has been one of those communities that has really grown, and we haven’t been able to keep up with library service in that area,” she said. “Getting a donation of land is a huge plus in terms of getting that project moving forward.”
There is a location for a new Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries branch in Brush Prairie on undeveloped land adjacent to the WinCo Foods supermarket north of Prairie High School at Northeast 119th Street and Northeast 112th Avenue. However, that project is on hold while the district figures out what to do with its headquarters.
Vancouver Public Schools announced in August that it was eyeing library headquarters at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd. for the location of a new elementary school, which would also use the adjacent property, 1301 E. Mill Plain Blvd.
The city owns the property, and the library district’s lease runs for another 13 years, Shelley said, but library officials want to figure out what is going to happen to their headquarters before moving forward with the Brush Prairie branch.
“We don’t have anywhere to go,” Shelley said. “There’s nothing on the market. We don’t have any plans in place. We want to be sure we have enough money to make that move. That has put our ability to plan that Brush Prairie branch on hold.”
Shelley said part of the tricky part in finding a new headquarters is finding a space that will accommodate all of the library district’s needs, which include proximity to a main road, loading docks and office space.
The Brush Prairie property has room for a roughly 9,000 square-foot building, too small for a new headquarters. That branch will also cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million, Shelley said.