Parcel meets several criteria for ideal site, supporters say
The Winthrop library appears to have found a new home.
At its meeting last week, the Winthrop Town Council authorized Mayor Sally Ranzau to negotiate the purchase of a .81-acre parcel on White Avenue, adjacent to the Susie Stephens Trail and near Little Star Montessori School, for a price of up to $109,000 plus closing costs.
Since early 2017, the nonprofit group Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL) has been promoting construction of a new library to replace the overcrowded, outdated building on Highway 20 across from the ball field. At a recent Town Council meeting, representatives of FOWL said that major donors are poised to contribute to a capital campaign to construct a new library, but needed commitment from the town to keep the project moving ahead.
The FOWL representatives said a new site should ideally be centrally located, visible, walkable and easily accessible. The White Avenue parcel meets all those criteria, FOWL chair Shannon Huffman Polson said in an interview last week.
Polson said FOWL and the town have been researching potential properties for about a year, including some city-owned parcels. The identified site is in private ownership, part of a four-lot parcel bounded by White Avenue (also called Twin Lakes Road), Norfolk Road and Greenwood Road.
The existing library site is unsuitable for a new building because it is in a flood plain.
Polson said future considerations might include adding more land to create outdoor activity space. She noted that because of the close proximity of both Little Star and Jamie’s Place, “it brings age demographics together.”
Public input sought
Polson said FOWL will continue work on a needs assessment and “program study,” research that will be used to determine what kind of building the community wants. To that end, FOWL will host a community workshop on Dec. 9, from 2-4 p.m., at the Winthrop Barn to present ideas and solicit feedback. Architect Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects, a Seattle-based firm with experience designing several public libraries on the west side, will facilitate the discussion. Johnston, who has a residence in the Methow and whose firm had designed many homes here, is contributing his services, Polson said.
“We’ll look at how libraries are used, and put together a requirement list with some specificity,” Polson said. She said the building plans will include accommodating anticipated growth.
Polson said the current timeline projects completion of a program document by January, which will be the basis for schematic drawings and an estimated construction budget. Next spring, there will be more public meetings to generate additional feedback, she said. “We’ll take input all through the process,” she said.
Construction is estimated to begin in spring 2020 with completion about a year later. When the library is completed, FOWL will turn it over to the town to own and maintain. The North Central Regional Library (NCRL) system, of which the Winthrop library is a part, will provide all the furnishings and equipment for the new building, Polson said.
At a recent Town Council meeting, FOWL representatives said that fundraising for the new library would include a 4 percent set-aside for repairs.
Polson said FOWL has been “blown away by the support of the town, the Chamber of Commerce, NCRL and the Give Methow campaign.”
The town’s intention to buy a specific property will motivate potential major donors who already are actively interested in the project, Polson said, and help with grant applications as well.
Polson said that “libraries are completely redefined in the 21st century” as more broadly providing not only information services and access, but also a “community foundation” and gathering place. “A library brings everyone together in a way that nothing else does,” she said.
Need is clear
The need for a new space is evident to anyone who uses the tiny Winthrop library, which has the largest per capita circulation of any of the 30 outposts in the NCRL system. The former ranger station the library is now housed in is one of several library locations over the years.
The lot the town intends to purchase is in the same area where Okanogan County Fire District 6 has contemplated building a new fire station to replace the existing facility on Englar Street. The district already owns a 5-acre property on Horizon Flats. Both sites were identified as suitable by a citizen advisory committee that evaluated potential fire station locations for the district last year.
The proposed new library site is also in the W-3 zoning district, which has been the object of much discussion about application of the town’s Westernization code to buildings in that area. The Town Council will soon be considering proposed language for revisions to the town’s Westernization code as it applies to W-3 commercial zoning.
An ad hoc committee was appointed by the council to review the Westernization ordinance’s regulations for solar arrays in the W-3 district. Among its preliminary recommendations to the council will be that in all Westernization districts, town-owned properties and projects should follow Westernization codes and guidelines.
The town is currently exempted from adhering strictly to Westernization requirements for appearance and building materials. That has rankled some Westernization supporters, who say the town should set the example and not be the exception. The cost of converting existing buildings to meet Westernization requirements, or incorporating Westernization into new buildings, has been cited as the reason the town has exempted itself from the code provisions.