Two down, one to go.
One way or another, the three major Methow Valley civic projects of 2022 — each with a distinct history and path from conception to realization — will be completed and functional before the year is out. It’s serendipitous that they are all coming online in the same year given their different starting points, marking the conclusion of a particularly ambitious period for public improvement efforts.
Interestingly, the one with the shortest history — the new Winthrop library — was the first to open its doors, about six years after the movement for a new facility was launched. The library project had the unusual advantage of being a private effort with ultimate civic intent, so did not have to go through the same kind of public process and scrutiny that were required for the Twisp Civic Center and Okanogan County Fire District 6 fire station in Winthrop.
That said, the Friends of the Winthrop Library’s fundraising and community outreach efforts for the new library were transparent and accessible. Anyone could be as engaged as they wanted to be. In addition to private funds, a state capital projects grant made the library possible — without that $2 million, it would have been a much more difficult challenge to accumulate the necessary funds.
Anyone who attended the library’s grand opening last month, or visited it in calmer times since, can appreciate what a great asset it is for not only Winthrop but also for the entire valley.
The civic building and fire hall projects are supported with a combination of public funding sources along with state and private grants. In each case, the final push to pay for the buildings has been challenging as the projects neared completion. Costs that outstripped original estimates can’t be blamed on anyone — COVID and related economic impacts affected construction costs in ways that could not have been anticipated. Estimates are always just that.
The new fire hall will have its grand opening this weekend. We encourage you to check it out if you can. The district worked a long time against a lot of obstacles to get the much-needed facility completed. Unlike the library and Twisp civic building, it’s not a facility that the general public will have reason to visit often, so this will be a great opportunity to see all its features up-close. Besides, who doesn’t like to visit a fire station? The district’s perseverance paid off in a building that the firefighters and the community can all feel good about.
Twisp’s new town hall, which will also serve as a regional communications center, is essentially ready to occupy. But the necessary (and promised) exterior work — street and sidewalk improvements at the intersection of Glover Street and Third Avenue including a public plaza — is still underway and it was deemed appropriate to complete those details before moving town staff into the new space.
Meanwhile, that intersection is expected to be closed to vehicle traffic until early November. It will be a necessary inconvenience, and not an easy workaround for people used to taking advantage of businesses and services on Twisp’s de facto Main Street. However, town officials say the exterior work will be far enough along to allow the planned staff occupancy to start at the end of September. Then the final grand opening celebration of the year will take place in October. Again, it will be a rare opportunity to see what a decade of planning and preparation produced.
As I’ve remarked before — while acknowledging that I am showing my age — there was a time when American communities were proud of their public buildings and what they represented. They wanted them to look impressive (not imposing, which is different). Over the decades, as civic pride took a beating, taxes became a volatile issue and cheap became the standard rather than durable and presentable, public buildings began to look more drab and uninviting, devoid of appeal or inspiration.
The three new public edifices opening this year are not showy, elaborate or unnecessarily spendy — along the way, each had things trimmed from its original plans to keep costs manageable. But they are attractive buildings that don’t sacrifice functionality.
The Methow is justified in being satisfied with how the three projects turned out, but this is not a place that will rest on its laurels for long. There are too many things that need attention, as is the case with a forward-looking community. The planning groundwork to replace Twisp’s Wagner Memorial Pool is well underway, with some monumental decisions ahead. The sites of the former library and District 6 fire station in Winthrop will be repurposed. Other ideas will emerge. In the meantime, get to know all about our newest assets, and never take them for granted.