File photo by Don Nelson

Any popular activity quickly fills up the Winthrop library, particularly if kids are involved.

Pitch to Town Council asks for support

The tiny Winthrop library has the largest per capita circulation of any of the 30 outposts in the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) system. More than Okanogan, Twisp, Omak, Leavenworth – more even than Wenatchee.

All of that activity is jammed into a minuscule space that was never designed to accommodate all the things a modern library provides.

Since early 2017, the nonprofit group Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) has promoted construction of a new library in town, and intends to raise the money needed to build one. FOWL has been working on a needs assessment as the basis for specific recommendations for the new facility. The group has conducted interviews, surveys and engaged in community conversations to generate ideas.

Before FOWL can go much farther, the selection and purchase of a site are top priorities, representatives of the group told the Winthrop Town Council last week. To be determined are when and how the town will participate in finding and buying an appropriate site. FOWL intends to fundraise the money necessary to build a new library, and then turn it over to the town to own and maintain.

In a presentation to the council, FOWL project manager Rachel Macmorran said that the former ranger station the library is now housed in — one of several library locations over the years — was never meant to be a permanent space.

“We love our library, we use our library, but we don’t fit in our library,” Macmorran said. The building is inadequate not only for current use but also for expected growth, she said.

Local challenges, Macmorran said, include the rural technology divide, limited public spaces for activities, and the fact that 30 percent of the valley’s students don’t have Internet access for their homework. Poverty is also an issue she said, even if free Internet access is available in spaces such as local coffee shops. “The price of a cup of coffee can be an obstacle,” she said.

Many advantages

A new facility will help bridge the technology gap, build community, strengthen the local economy, and increase learning opportunities for all ages, Macmorran said. “All the challenges can be met with one building that is barrier-free, democratic and offers something for everyone,” she said.

And, she said, a strong library “communicates underlying values” in the community.

As for a location, Macmorran said, the ideal site will be centrally located, visible, walkable and easily accessible

Macmorran said that fundraising for the new library would include a 4 percent set-aside for repairs. NCRL will provide maintenance, cleaning, and all the equipment and furnishings necessary. FOWL will work with the town and NCRL to determine the best management structure.

FOWL is being assisted in its needs assessment by Johnston Architects, a Seattle firm with strong connections to the valley. The firm specializes in library architecture and has designed several in the Puget Sound area. Ray Johnston, one of the firm’s principals, is acting as a pro bono adviser to FOWL, Macmorran said.

To get citizen input, FOWL will host a “community conversation” about what a new library should include on Dec. 9, from 2-4 p.m. in the Winthrop Barn. Johnston will facilitate that meeting.

Already, Macmorran said, “community buy-in is strong” and NCRL is eager to assist. “They’re behind us 100 percent,” she said of the regional library system. Ultimately, the goal is to begin construction in spring of 2020 with a completion date of spring 2021, she said. “It will be an object of civic pride,” Macmorran said.

Sequentially, Macmorran said, site selection and purchase have to happen before design can begin. The current site is not a possibility because of flood plain issues and other constrictions, she said.

Macmorran said FOWL is looking to the town for some indication of how it will participate in finding and buying a site. Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said potential major donors to the project “want to see that the town is invested in it … so the town has some skin in the game.

Sarah Berns, FOWL’s secretary, said that “the town’s buy-in is multifaceted and necessary for donors to get involved.” The FOWL presentation said that a demonstrably strong partnership among the nonprofit group, the town and NCRL will be necessary to successfully apply for potential grants.

The Town Council is beginning its budget deliberations for 2019 and funding for a site is expected to be part of the discussions.