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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Turning A Page -- Seattle Proposition 1, A $196.4 Million Facelift, Would Expand And Renovate The Public Library System

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Jammed into a crumbling 1920s-era variety store with more books than shelves to hold them, the Beacon Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library could be the poster child for Seattle's worn-out library system.

In the summer, the tinyair conditioner can't compete with the heat, but librarians can't open the door because the storefront sits on one of the neighborhood's busiest intersections.

The aging linoleum floor is cracking, and one of the walls had to be shored up against a feared collapse. Every shelf is so crammed with books and tapes that the room has a frantic feel.

"If we have something new coming in, it's almost as if the whole configuration of the library has to change," said Diane Cowles, a Beacon Hill librarian.

Seattle Proposition 1, a proposed $196.4 million facelift for Seattle's libraries, would fund a replacement library for Beacon Hill and five other neighborhoods. It would add three neighborhood libraries in Northgate, Chinatown/International District and Delridge, and upgrade or expand the rest of the city's branches. The measure on the Nov. 3 ballot would nearly double the square footage of the city's neighborhood libraries.

But the biggest portion of the bond would go to tear down the Central Library at Fourth Avenue and Spring Street and build a larger one in its place.

Library supporters say this library bond has a much sharper focus on neighborhood libraries than its 1994 counterpart, which

proposed to build a new Central Library, replace four branches, add a Northgate library and upgrade six others. The $155 million bond failed by 3 percentage points to win the required 60 percent approval.

City Librarian Deborah Jacobs, new to Seattle last year from a much smaller library system in Corvallis, Ore., spent hundreds of hours in community meetings, listening to thousands of citizens make suggestions for library improvements. Many of the suggestions were incorporated into the "Libraries for All" capital plan unveiled by Jacobs and Mayor Paul Schell earlier this year.

"I can say with great honesty that this is what we need," Jacobs said. "There wasn't a strategic thought of `Where do we need support?' We looked at demographics, talked to neighborhood planning folks and asked what are the beliefs, hopes and dreams of this neighborhood. It was pretty systematic."

The result is that many neighborhood groups, including the Civic Foundation, which is often critical of city spending, have bought into the plan.

Opponents don't see urgency

Even the small band of organized opponents of the bond measure agrees that the libraries need work.

"We believe there are definitely library improvements that need to happen from the Central Library on down," said Jay Sauceda, who is running the "No on Prop. 1" campaign. "We don't believe there's the urgency that some in the city would present. There's some feeling that the sky is going to fall if the bond doesn't pass."

Opponents disagree with library supporters about which facilities to target and how to pay for the makeovers. "No on Prop. 1," which had raised $100 as of the last filing period, argues that there should be more emphasis on neighborhood branches and less on the Central Library.

"We would support a smaller, scaled-down library," Sauceda said. "We think it's excessive to spend two-thirds of the bond on a downtown trophy project."

Sauceda, previously a legislative aide to former City Councilman Charlie Chong and Chong's campaign manager in last year's mayoral race, argues that the property-tax increase will make housing less affordable for Seattle residents. He says the city should pay for the improvements out of its own debt rather than raising taxes.

Another opponent, Jordan Brower, put forth a similar argument earlier this year when he began to gather signatures for an alternative proposal known as Initiative 45, or "Back to Basics." Brower collected enough signatures but turned them in too late for the initiative to appear on Nov. 3 opposite Prop. 1. Instead, Initiative 45, which also calls for the city to use its own indebtedness to pay for the improvements, will appear next fall after voters have already decided on Prop. 1. It remains unclear what would happen if the measure were to pass.

Library supporters say the opponents' alternative funding method would take money away from such necessities as street cleaning and police protection. They also argue that the downtown library isn't simply a branch for downtown, but a crucial hub that keeps the branches running.

The library campaign enjoys strong backing from neighborhood groups, civic organizations and city politicians. The campaign had raised about $266,000 as of the latest filing period last week. Sue Tupper, a consultant on the "Neighbors for Libraries" campaign, said it will spend more than $135,000 on radio and television advertisements before the election.

One radio ad, beginning today, was to feature Seattle schools Superintendent John Stanford.

The campaign is also targeting voters with phone calls and direct mail in areas that didn't support the 1994 measure as strongly as expected, such as Queen Anne, Magnolia and parts of Northeast Seattle.

Cost to homeowners

The $196.4 million bond would cost the owner of an average Seattle house ($180,000 assessed value) about $55 a year in increased property taxes to pay off the bonds in 25 years. The remainder of the $235.4 million price tag for the upgrades and improvements in book collections and technology would come from the Seattle Public Library Foundation, which has pledged to raise $25 million, and other funds.

The city has agreed to pay for a $5.7 million, 200-car garage for the Central Library. The plan also includes a $6 million "opportunity fund" that can be used to upgrade other neighborhood libraries.

As in 1994, more than half the bond is aimed for the new Central Library to replace the 206,000-square-foot 1960 building. Four years ago, the proposal called for a $130 million, 410,000-square-foot downtown library across from the Pike Place Market.

This time, about $156 million would be spent to build a 355,000-square-foot building on the current site. Jacobs said inflation increased the cost.

The Library Board settled on the existing site after narrowing a dozen sites to three. Relocation of library materials during construction will cost $11 million, but the library won't have to purchase property in the expensive downtown market.

By all accounts, the 38-year-old Central Library is worn out. More than 4,000 people traipse through the library on an average day, checking out more than 1 million books a year.

The building is so short on space that more than half of the library's collection is stored in the basement, off-site or elsewhere out of the public's view. People often have to wait for a library employee to fetch a book.

"One of the wonders of a large public library is the thrill of discovery," said Jill Jean, director of the Central Library. "When you can't see the full range of materials, you lose that."

The library has seating for 800 people. The new library would more than triple the number of places to sit. It would also include a 275-seat auditorium for community meetings and library programs and would add centers for children, adult readers and technology classes.

In 1994, $35 million of the bond measure was targeted for the neighborhoods, while this year $66.8 million is aimed for expansions and new branches in the neighborhoods.

The North East branch in Wedgwood is the busiest branch in the system. Librarian Elizabeth Yee says the 1954 building has no meeting room and lacks adequate space for collections. If all the books were returned, she says, there would be no place to put them.

Mimi Wogu, 12, who uses the High Point library nearly every day after school, was pleased to hear about the proposal to build a new library in her neighborhood.

On a recent afternoon in the tiny library, she searched through a stack of atlases for a map that detailed the cities and towns of Ethiopia for a school report on her native country.

"If it was bigger and if they had a lot more stuff here, it would be better," she said, sitting at a table with two high-school girls studying math.

High Point librarians constantly have to hush students, whose voices carry across the 2,000-square-foot room. Mimi says sometimes all the noise makes it hard to study. Even so, she says, it's better than studying at home.

"At home, I don't have all these books," she said.

Susan Byrnes' phone message number is 206-464-2189. Her e-mail address is: sbyrnes@seattletimes.com

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Improvements, replacements and new libraries under Seattle Proposition 1:

1. Central. Fourth Avenue and Spring Street. Seattle Proposition 1, a $196.4 million bond measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, would allocate $156 million to tear down the existing downtown library and build a larger one in its place. The new library would be 355,000 square feet and include a 200-car parking garage. Improvements would include a center for children and young adults, a department for general information and periodicals, a 275-seat auditorium and expanded seating and collection space.

2. Ballard Library 5711 24th Ave. N.W. This 1963 building is one of the busiest branches. Seattle Proposition 1, a $196.4 million bond measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, would spend $6.5 million to replace the building with a 15,000-square-foot library, more than twice the size of the existing one. Improvements would include a new multipurpose meeting room, more parking, an expanded book collection and enlarged areas for children and adults.

3. Beacon Hill Library. 2519 15th Ave. S. This library is housed in a converted retail store that dates to 1927. The cramped library is too small to house all the collections. The bond measure would allocate $4.75 million for a new 10,000-square-foot library, more than three times the size of the existing one. There would be more room for books, seating for 90 people, new computer work stations, special collections and areas for homework programs.

4. Broadview Library. 12755 Greenwood Ave. N.

The bond measure includes $3.5 million to nearly double the size of the existing building, add seating, improve lighting and expand the collection. Renovations would improve computer work stations and make the circulation desk more efficient.

5. Chinatown/International District. Eighth Avenue South and South Dearborn Street. This neighborhood has no library of its own. The proposal would provide $289,000 for a new branch library to be built as part of the International District Village Square project, sharing a complex with housing and social-service programs. The 4,000-square-foot space would provide seating for up to 40 people and hold 12,000 books.

6. Columbia City Library. 4721 Rainier Ave. S. This historic 1915 library funded by Carnegie grants lacks space for its collection and offers very limited seating for patrons. Prop. 1 would pay $3.2 million for nearly doubling the size of the building,

for more computer work stations, additional parking and special areas for children and adults.

7. Delridge. (Location yet to be determined). This neighborhood has a small self-service library in the offices of the Southwest Youth and Family Services Center. Patrons on the honor system can check out books using a pencil-and-paper system. The new library would cost $2.98 million to build and provide 5,000 square feet of space. The branch would have seating for 50 people and space for 15,000 books as well as computer equipment and special children's areas.

8. Douglass-Truth Library. 2300 E. Yesler Way This 1914 building has been upgraded in recent years, but supporters say it is too small to house its growing African-American collection. The bond would pay $3.5 million to expand the 8,000-square-foot building to 15,000 square feet. The expansion would include additional seating, a new children's area and more computer work stations.

9. Fremont Library. 731 N. 35th St. This 1921 Mission-style building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bond would expand seating and overhaul the building's electrical, mechanical and ventilation systems. The $554,000 price tag would also convert a storage area to public space and add seating.

10. Green Lake Library 7364 E. Green Lake Drive N. This branch was built in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Renovations at a cost of $602,000 would improve the layout of the interior, add seating, air conditioning and better sound insulation. The design would aim to improve the lobby and make the circulation area more efficient.

11. Greenwood Library. 8016 Greenwood Ave. N.

The building suffers from major system problems and poses a high seismic risk. The proposal would fund a 15,000-square-foot replacement branch at a cost of $6.47 million. The new branch would add seating and collection space, upgrade computer work stations and build a multipurpose meeting room.

12. Henry Library. 425 Harvard Ave. E. This split-level library was built in 1954 to serve North Capitol Hill and to house the system's collection for the blind. The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library has since been relocated, and librarians say the building creates access and circulation problems. The bond would fund a $4.4 million replacement with a total space of 10,000 square feet and room for 30,000 books. The plan would include computer work stations, a multipurpose meeting room and reference areas for adults and children.

13. High Point Library. 6338 32nd Ave. S.W. This tiny, 1942 library serves residents of the High Point housing project and neighborhoods beyond. It is too small to house its collections and accommodate all the students who use it after school. The bond would fund a $3 million replacement library nearby, but outside the High Point community, to serve the entire neighborhood. The new library would provide 7,000 square feet of new space with emphasis on programs for middle- and high-school students.

14. Holly Park Library. 6748 35th Ave. S. This 1943 library is housed in a converted residential unit as part of the Holly Park housing project. The bond would allocate $750,000 for the library to move and more than double in size to 4,000 square feet. The library would be part of a new facility called the "Campus of Learners" that would house community-college classes, job-training programs, tutoring and career resources.

15. Lake City Library. 12501 28th Ave. N.E.

The $2.9 million allocated in the bond would pay for an expansion of the building to 15,000 square feet. The expansion would add new seating and room for collections. The renovated building would include a multipurpose room, a new public conference room and upgraded technology.

16. Madrona-Sally Goldmark Library. 1134 33th Ave. Opened in a converted fire house in 1973, this library is heavily used by students attending Madrona Elementary School. The plan would spend $255,000 to add new seating, expand the book collection, improve the mechanical and electrical systems, and add air conditioning.

17. Magnolia Library. 2801 34th Ave. W. This 1964 library would be upgraded and reorganized at a cost of $767,000. The remodel would better organize the interior, and improve lighting and acoustics. It would upgrade air conditioning, add new carpeting and improve computer connections.

18. Montlake Library. 2300 24th Ave. E. The smallest of Seattle's branch libraries, this branch has been housed in a converted retail store since 1944. The proposal would fund a $2.57 million, 5,000-square-foot replacement building, expanded seating, room for book collections, improved computer equipment and better parking.

19. North East Library. 6801 35th Ave. N.E. This is the busiest of the branch libraries, with nearly 500,000 books and other materials checked out a year. The proposal would cover a $4.66 million expansion and renovation of the 1954 building, more than doubling the square footage to 15,000. The new building would include a multipurpose meeting room, expanded seating and new computer work stations.

20. Northgate. (Location yet to be determined). This neighborhood has no library to serve its growing population. The bond would provide $5.1 million to build a 10,000-square-foot branch library with seating for up to 100 people and capacity for 30,000 books.

21. Queen Anne Library. 400 W. Garfield St. This 1914 Carnegie library was upgraded in 1987 but needs air conditioning, electrical improvements, soundproofing and some reorganization. The bond would pay $482,000 for the improvements, which include new seating, an expanded book collection and more accessible parking.

22. Rainier Beach Library. 9125 Rainier Ave. S. Built in 1981, this is the newest of Seattle's branch libraries. Renovations and expansions would increase the size to 15,000 square feet, add seating and collection space, and upgrade technology. The $3 million upgrade would also improve the circulation-desk area and add better lighting.

23. Southwest Library. 9010 35th Ave. S.W.

The 1961 building would receive major modifications and expansion at a cost of $4.3 million. The expansion would increase the size to 15,000 square feet. It would also reorganize the interior, add computer work stations and upgrade lighting.

24. University Library. 5009 Roosevelt Way N.E. This library opened in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bond would allocate $759,000 for new seating and shelving, an expanded book collection, new computer work stations and improvements to technology and equipment.

25. Wallingford-Wilmot Library. 4423 Densmore Ave. N. This library is housed in a former police and fire station from 1913. It was originally situated in a house donated to the library by Alice Wilmot in 1947. The current building is owned by the 45th Street Clinic, which has asked the library to find a new site. The bond would provide $393,000 for the library to relocate to a comparable space on or near 45th Street with about 2,000 square feet of space.

26. West Seattle Library. 2306 42nd Ave. S.W. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this library opened in 1910. The proposal would provide $778,000 to renovate the existing building and turn the basement into usable space. Additions would include a new meeting room, new seating, an enhanced collection and more efficient work areas.

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. The library bond .

. How the money would be spent, in millions Replace Central Library .

$156.1 . Neighborhood library . improvements $66.8 . Reserve neighborhood . opportunity fund $6 . Modernize technology $5.6 . Purchase new neighborhood . collections $0.9 . Bond transaction costs $4 . Total $239.4 .

. Where the money would come from, in millions . Total bonds $196.4 . Seattle Public Library . Foundation Pledge $25 . Other public resources . (e.g., parking garage) $18 .

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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