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News / Clark County News

Camas council approves library contract as part of $1.85 million project to update facility

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: November 11, 2023, 6:08am
2 Photos
Washougal resident Jonathan Jennings enjoys a cozy fire while working on his laptop at the Camas Public Library in January.
Washougal resident Jonathan Jennings enjoys a cozy fire while working on his laptop at the Camas Public Library in January. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Despite one official’s stated “hesitation” to fund city projects not related to public safety in the wake of an unexpected revenue shortfall, the Camas City Council this week unanimously approved a $479,000 consultant contract key to updating and improving the Camas library.

The contract with Seattle-based Johnston Architects will provide architectural, design and engineering services for the city of Camas’ planned $1.85 million library update project, which will improve the library’s exterior, focus on safety and accessibility issues, and create the community-supported “Children’s Learning Hive” for infants, toddlers and children.

The Johnston Architects contract approved Monday includes a substantial scope of work, including transforming the current children’s library into the Children’s Learning Hive, with an early learning center in the former storytime room, a STEM lab for children in elementary school, a quiet reading area and a hallway that, according to the consultants “allows children to play while learning.”

The contract also includes assessing the library’s outdoor courtyard to see how it might be better utilized by library patrons; improving lighting on the main floor; assisting with community outreach and public input; securing new furniture and flooring for the entire library; designing accessible main entrances and an accessible ramp to the courtyard; supporting the city as it goes out to bid for the remainder of the library update work; and designing “a permanent solution to prevent water intrusion into the exterior stairwell to the basement level.”

Several Camas community members and library supporters had expressed concern about the future of the primarily grant-funded library update project after the Camas City Council’s 4-3 vote opposing a $124,000 Camas Parks and Recreation Department consultant contract that would have set the city up to apply for more than $1 million in grant funding from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

Of the four council members who voted against the sports field contract — Don Chaney, Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and Jennifer Senescu — Senescu was the most outspoken about not wanting to approve city projects not connected to public safety while the city is considering Camas Mayor Steve Hogan’s proposed 2024 budget over the next few weeks.

The mayor’s revamped 2024 budget includes lower-than-expected property and sales tax revenues and proposes halting the hiring of 22 planned staff positions.

“I still have hesitation,” Senescu said Monday during the council’s regular meeting. “I love that (the library improvement project) is 73 percent funded, but 27 percent is from the general fund, and we don’t have funding for police and fire right now.”

Chaney, who also voted against the sports field assessment contract in October, said Monday that he had changed his mind about the library contract.

“My intuition was suggesting this was a ‘want,’ not a ‘need,’” he said. “But that changed based on some research.”

Lewallen said Monday that she had questioned approving the library contract given the city’s inability to fund the 22 planned positions in 2024.

“I think we can all agree the library is an asset to the community,” Lewallen said Monday. “My only struggle is the budget. … It is hard for me when we have full-time employees not being hired right now.”

Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn said local state legislators helped the city secure the $730,000 state Department of Commerce grant for the library update project, and that city officials could not use the matching funds to help pay for staff positions in other departments.

In the end, the council voted unanimously in favor of the library contract.

Council members are set to discuss other capital projects and the mayor’s proposed 2024 budget cuts — and could revisit the failed sports field assessment — during their Nov. 20 and Dec. 4 meetings.

For more information about council meetings and upcoming agenda items, visit cityofcamas.us/meetings.