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Committee begins figuring out future use for the library space over Cedar

Francine Siverts, left, holds up a list of ideas while Marvin Rosete listens at a meeting Wednesday night of a steering committee looking into future uses for the building that now houses the downtown library. - Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter
Francine Siverts, left, holds up a list of ideas while Marvin Rosete listens at a meeting Wednesday night of a steering committee looking into future uses for the building that now houses the downtown library.
— image credit: Tracey Compton/Renton Reporter

Coming to the space now occupied by the downtown Renton Library over the Cedar River is a vibrant, more community-connected, multicultural, educational and interactive center that is energy efficient.

These were re-occurring themes discussed at the first meeting of a steering committee Wednesday night looking at future uses for the library building at Liberty Park.

The building will become vacant sometime in 2013 when the library moves to its new site on South Third Street at the former Big 5 Sporting Goods, which is being torn down.

About 35 people applied and were accepted for the City of Renton's steering committee. Twenty-three steering committee members and three visitors made it to the first meeting in City Council Chambers.

The range of experience and residency in Renton was wide among the committee members. Some members where relatively new to Renton. Others could remember the old Carnegie library in the city and when it was torn down. Two committee members said they decided to participate because they thought the purpose of the meeting was to save the downtown location.

Leeah Brown was one of those people.

"I really didn't know what to expect because I've never done this before," she said. "Now I feel motivated and excited and I can't wait for the next meeting."

Brown wants the space to become something that is community-oriented that the young and old can use.

Terry Higashiyama, community services administrator for the City of Renton; Elizabeth Stewart, director of the Renton History Museum and Greg Stroh, facilities manager for the city, are the liaisons to the City Council and facilitators of the committee.

The group will elect committee members internally to be the chair, vice chair and secretary.

They plan to meet at least once a month for six months and produce a five- to 10-page final report in March to present to City Council in time for the council's budget process.

The objective of the committee is "to develop a series of preferable options for the library," said Stewart in addressing the committee.

Although there is no set budget for the project, she said the city would like to see an economically feasible idea that benefits the public and enhances the environment.

Stewart laid out the ground rules for the group, which included not dwelling on the past and the decision to move the library to the new location on Third Street.

Higashiyama acknowledged this has not been an easy process and that the city knows there is a petition to keep the library in its current building over the Cedar River, but she said they would respect that petition process.

She assured the crowd that "this building will stay as part of our public."

"The economy should not hold us back, because I have seen good things come out of very little," Higashiyama said.

The committee members were eager to present their ideas as they went around introducing themselves and offering their thoughts. Then they broke into groups to come up initial objectives for best use of the library building at Liberty Park.

"I've just been kind of following the whole process since the beginning and I just want to help out, just want to be a part of my community," said Wil Samson, a committee member.

From Montana, Samson has lived in Renton a little over a year. In his Montana town, a restaurant spanned a river, but he's keeping his mind open to the best possible use for the Renton building.

An art activity center, an interpretive center, a café, a daycare facility or a center for after-school programs, an exhibit hall or multicultural center with entertainment aspects - all were ideas thrown out in the brainstorming session.

At the next meeting, the committee will get a powerpoint presentation on the nitty gritty details of the building, its limitations, the permitting process and what has to be done to upgrade it.

All the meetings are open to the public and two to three meetings are planned to open up the process to public comment.

City Council member King Parker sat in on the first steering committee meeting and said, "We are thirsty for your input."

Higashiyama said this group would be taken seriously by the council.

"The council takes all steering and task force groups very seriously because they really look at their community, the people that live in the community to give their thoughts back," she said.

The next steering committee will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Renton Senior Center, 211 Burnett Ave. N.

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