UPDATE: White Center Library apparently saved

Proposal is to move it a bit north toward Seattle

“Awesome.”

That was the one-word reaction from Liz Giba, a leader in the fight to keep the White Center Library, following a King County Library System (KCLS) planning committee meeting in Burien on Thursday, Nov. 15.

With the overwhelming defeat of Burien’s bid to annex North Highline, Giba and other area library supporters who packed the small Burien Library conference room feared KCLS director Bill Ptacek would recommend the library board resume plans to close the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries and build a larger library in north Burien.

Instead, Ptacek suggested KCLS build a 10,000 square-foot library north of the current White Center Library at 11220 16th Ave. S.W. The current library is 6,000 square feet.

Ironically, one of the reasons Ptacek had earlier given for closing the White Center site was that it was too close to Seattle’s city limits. He argued Seattle residents were coming over the border and using the library without paying for its services.

In a later interview with the Highline Times, Ptacek said there will be no changes to the Boulevard Park Library.

As for the proposed consolidated library, Ptacek noted, “On the idea of a larger library we are not ready to do it.”

But he said the area is in need of more library services. He also reminded committee members that it has been nearly ten years since the 2004 bond was approved that authorized building a new White Center Library.

He noted that a temporary location would have to be found if the new library was built on the current site.

Building further south would place the new library closer to the Burien Library in downtown Burien, which serves a large area, Ptacek noted.

By building the library to the north, Seattle could take it over if the city annexes North Highline in the future, he said. A new agreement between KCLS and Seattle would have to be worked out, he added.

The library is currently within Burien's city limits but would have to be moved just a block north to be in the unincorporated area.

“It’s time to get going,” Ptacek declared. “We recommend we move north a little bit.”

Ptacek said the library system would have to purchase land along the same street (16th Avenue Southwest) where the current library is located. Ptacek hopes to have construction started by this time next year. He said he has received positive responses on the new proposal from Burien and Seattle city officials.

In discussions with Seattle officials, Ptacek said some city council members are interested in annexing North Highline but it is not on the city’s immediate agenda.

While KCLS postponed action on consolidation until after the annexation vote, former White Center Library Guild president Rachael Levine observed after the meeting that annexation didn’t seem to play a big part in Ptacek’s recommendation.

But in the Highline Times interview, Ptacek said the annexation vote made clear that White Center would not become part of Burien and KCLS would have to create a different service for the area.

“We have the money. The community has a need. We are ready to go,” Ptacek declared.

Planning committee members generally supported Ptacek’s recommendation, which will be passed on to the whole board of trustees for approval.

Here is our previous coverage:

Under pressure from county and local political leaders, the King County Library System board agreed to postpone consolidating the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries into one facility near Southwest 128th Street until after the North Highline annexation vote.

Last week, North Highline voters overwhelmingly rejected annexation into Burien.

This week, the library system’s planning committee will consider the consolidation proposal again. The discussion will come at a committee meeting open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Burien Library, 400 S.W. 152nd St. The meeting begins at noon with the North Highline library discussion at the top of the agenda.

Annexation proponents argued that the library system would go forward with their consolidation plan if annexation was not approved. Opponents said the annexation vote would not affect the decision on the libraries.

Proponents countered that with annexation, library officials would stick to the original plan as approved by voters in a 2004 library bond election to build a new White Center Library and remodel the Boulevard Park Library. Library system staffers have argued that the original plan is no longer cost efficient.

At a packed Nov. 29, 2011 library board meeting in Issaquah, it appeared the consolidation was a done deal when two of the five trustees voiced support. Trustee Lucy Krakowiak, also a Burien City Councilmember, recused herself from board decisions affecting Burien. It is not clear if she will continue to recuse herself now that the issue has resurfaced.

At the Issaquah meeting, trustee Rob Spitzner noted that officials from the King County Executive’s office, County Councilmember Joe McDermott, and the city of Burien had strongly suggested that the board hold off a decision until the annexation issue was decided.

County library system officials worry that Seattle residents are making the short trek over Seattle’s city limits to use the White Center library without paying for the service. Seattle operates its own library system.

With the 2009 annexation of Boulevard Park/Area X, the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries are within Burien’s city limits. A new two-story library was also constructed on the Burien Town Square site to replace the old library that occupied the current Burien Community Center site.

With the three libraries, Burien currently has one library per 16,000 people. With consolidation to the two large libraries, Burien would have one library per 24,000 people. The countywide average is one library per 36,000 people.

However, consolidation opponents led by White Center Library Guild president Rachael Levine argue the library system committed to a new White Center library and remodeled Boulevard Park library in the 2004 bond election.

They also say the White Center library is within walking distance for low-income Evergreen High and Cascade Middle students who may not have access to a computer at home or a private vehicle.

They also cite a greater need for libraries among lower income residents who may also have transportation difficulties.

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