FOWL campaign relied on strong local support
When the new Winthrop public library opens on Saturday (June 11), the spirit of Walter Frisbee may well be in attendance for the ceremonies.
Frisbee opened a trading post on land he homesteaded in 1898 — at the very site where the new library now stands — and created a lending library, thought to be the first in the valley.
So it’s fitting that, nearly a century and a quarter later, the historic legacy of Frisbee’s gathering spot will live on in an expansive, multi-purpose building whose mission from the start has been to bring the community together.
Making that happen has been a six-year effort for Shannon Polson, chair of Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL), the nonprofit that raised funds to build the library and will turn it over to the Town of Winthrop. Three years ago, FOWL had evolved to the point where it needed an executive director to oversee its more-complicated operations, and hired Jill Sheley to run the organization.
Polson and Sheley are both stepping down after the new library opens. “It’s time. We’ve both done our jobs,” Polson said in a conversation last week that included Sheley.
Polson and Sheley emphasized that they could not have done those jobs without powerful community support in the form of monetary donations, in-kind assistance and input from residents about what they would like to see in a new library.
They reeled off a long list of names: FOWL board members past and present, major donors, community members who donated their expertise, design and construction team members whose contributions likely exceeded their fees, and others who simply provided support and inspiration.
And they pointed to more than 1,000 people who donated to the local campaign that helped raise the $6.5 million needed to build the library, which was augmented by a $2 million grant from the state’s capital fund.
Doing the work
Polson said the original inspiration for the library came years ago at a birthday party, in a conversation with John Hayes (whose late wife, Rayma, founded Little Star School) and the late Ken Westman, about starting a library next to Little Star.
“There was not a group ready to do it,” Polson said. So she and other volunteers created FOWL, got nonprofit corporation status and assembled a small board of directors. Polson said they spent the first 18 months getting organized and doing extensive fact-finding, which included community conversations up and down the valley.
The local fundraising effort began in 2019. Before that, FOWL had been active and visible, but much of the organization’s work was out of the public eye. “A lot of groundwork had to be done, Polson said.
That meant lining up major donations to create a solid foundation for the more-public campaign to come, doing research on fundraising and library operations, and working with the town to keep the project moving forward — which included the town’s purchase of the property where the new library was built (supplemented by FOWL’s subsequent purchase of adjacent property).
“It’s constant work to raise money,” said Polson, who said she trained herself to be fundraiser.
As the project gained momentum, Polson said, “we needed to change it to a fundraising board” — people who reach out to the major donors who would make it possible.
FOWL’s fundraising efforts emphasized that the new space would be not just a library but also a multi-faceted community resource where all were welcome.
“We wanted space that was accessible and equitable to everyone in the community,” Sheley said. To that end, the building includes public meeting space that will be available to a variety of organizations. Sheley also noted that new library will greatly expand or add services that could not be provided in the tiny building on Highway 20 that the library occupied since 2007.
“This is something that brings people together,” said Polson — an intention she has reiterated consistently as planning for the library progressed.
“It belongs to everyone,” Polson said.
While the building’s construction is within 1% of budget, it’s completion is about four months later than originally planned, thanks in part to COVID complications. At the same time, many of the building’s materials were ordered ahead of the pandemic, which means construction was not as affected by supply chain issues as many other projects. “If we had started six months later, we couldn’t have done it,” Sheley said.
“We tried to be financially conservative, almost to a fault,” Polson said. “It’s a public trust. We take that extremely seriously. We are finishing this project without any debt, and a maintenance fund … the building is paid for.”
If there’s a formula for such projects, Polson said, it’s this: “You have to believe it’s going to work. You have to pull together the right people. You have to be able to tell the story and do the work.”
“It’s all replicable in other communities,” Polson added. “You have to overcome doubt and naysayers.”
And then there are the intangibles — such as how involved and committed the community is. That factor was an invaluable asset in the Methow Valley.
“We’ve channeled the community’s generosity and spirit,” Sheley said of the library project.
Walter Frisbee would likely concur.
About the library
- The building was designed by Johnston Architects and P+B+W Architects. Impel Construction is the general contractor.
- No additional taxes will be required to build or operate the new library. Town residents currently pay a library district assessment which goes to the NCW Libraries system. NCW Libraries will provide all the staff, furnishings and equipment for the new building, as well as maintenance.
- The 7,300-square-foot building, which will be more than six times the size of the current library, includes dedicated sections for kids, teens and adults; six windows with bench seating; and a living-room area with a fireplace and view of Mount Gardner.
- The building also features separate rooms for community gatherings, lectures and activities, and a “maker space” for things like art projects, 3D printers and sewing machines. The main community gathering space can be accessed separately when the library is closed, and will include a catering kitchen. It can accommodate up to 72 people, or be divided by a soundproof barrier into two separate meeting spaces, each with access to covered outdoor areas.
- The larger library will accommodate a bigger collection — more books, magazines, audio and movies. There will be public computers and printers. The entire facility will have free public Wi-Fi.
- The library will feature artwork created by local artists Hannah Viano and Tori Karpenko, plus space for rotating exhibits. The building is designed to meet environmental standards and will be prepped for solar panels.