Renton advocacy group presses for public role in library design
By TRACEY COMPTON
Renton Reporter Staff writer
September 11, 2012 · Updated 11:02 AM
The residents' group, Renton Advocacy Coalition, raised questions about the King County Library System's management of library construction in Renton and asked Renton City Council for greater public involvement in library projects going forward, at Monday night's City Council meeting.
Members of the group, Beth Asher, David Keyes and Dana Rochex, addressed the council, explaining their concerns and proposal for being included on the city's Library Advisory Board. Keyes is a registered architect in this state with 34 years of experience. He expressed his skepticism of Miller Hull's suggested designs used by KCLS.
"I'm saying it's not entirely clear what their goals were in having Miller Hull do the feasibility study for the existing library," said Keyes of KCLS. "I know what their stated goals were. Some of the recommendations that came out of the feasibility study were not the sort of thing you would typically expect from a feasibility study in the sense that they create other problems."
Keyes cited a Miller Hull design proposal that included raising the floor level and moving the main entrance of the downtown library from the pedestrian bridge to the parking-lot side of the building. Keyes attended KCLS Board meetings and did Freedom of Information Act requests to learn about ideas that have been floated before the library system by the architect Miller Hull.
Council member Rich Zwicker questioned the level of detail the advocacy group chose to delve into at Monday night's meeting. At one point Zwicker called out Keyes for going down to the inches on the design of the floor space for a library that hasn't been designed yet.Zwicker asked Jay Covington, the city's chief administrative officer, to confirm that no plans have been formally given to the City Council for the downtown library renovation.Covington confirmed no plans had been given to the council yet, but that some work was done last summer on the downtown library to see what the potential cost would be.
Council member Randy Corman called the whole situation unique and asked that the rest of council not fixate on the details the advocacy group brings up, but figure out the proper forum for the group to bring up its concerns.
Keyes also found fault with the cost estimates KCLS presented in a letter that went out to voters ahead of the Aug. 7 election.
"I think it's important the residents understand that Mr. Ptacek's letter sounded as if the $13 million estimate was specifically part of the Miller Hull study," said Keyes. "And, the $8 million construction estimate was part of the Miller Hull study. The estimating of owner costs that would get it (the total estimate) up to $13 million was done entirely by KCLS' own staff."
This, coupled with preliminary designs he has seen for the downtown library, has Keyes and other members of the Renton Advocacy Coalition concerned.
Renton residents have a different idea of what they want as opposed to what KCLS has put forth so far, according to Keyes. He bases his concern on the feedback he and other members received from residents while collecting initiative signatures for the original pitch to the City Council for the site over the Cedar River and from campaigning for that location for the Aug. 7 election.
"When they're (residents) saying keep it over the river, they're not saying don't upgrade it," said Keyes. "But, they don't expect surprises like moving the entry that is actually culturally significant in Renton."
As to how Keyes felt the group was received by the council, he said they will have to wait and see.
"We're hopeful," he said, after the meeting. "We think there needs to be much more transparency; we don't think we should be forced to have to do Freedom of Information Act (requests) to get some of this information."
Renton Advocacy Coalition member Dana Rochex pitched the group members' expertise and biographical information to the council. Elizabeth Stevens, with 27 years of commercial and business experience, and Cary Feldmann, with 34 years of environmental experience, were also introduced to the council in addition to Asher and Keyes. Rochex has a background in interior design and architecture.
KCLS Library Director Bill Ptacek didn't attend Monday's meeting, but plans to attend the Committee of the Whole briefing on library plans in Renton on Sept. 17. In a phone interview he confirmed that KCLS is still retaining architect Miller Hull for the downtown library renovation and the goal now is to get the downtown library built.
"I wouldn't say they are starting from scratch but it is a new environment that they have to build to," Ptacek said of Miller Hull.
The architect is putting together its consultant team, Ptacek said, that will be different but not necessarily bigger. The fodder the architect will use for the design will be based on information from the previous feasibility study, feedback from public forums and site-specific information, according to Ptacek.
Preeti Shridhar, the city's communications director, said the advocacy group was given the opportunity to present to the council because it was a special request, but non-profit groups are typically allowed to address the council with presentations.
"Our relationship with KCLS continues to be really strong, the city is working on opportunities for the public to participate in the future and give updates and give their input," she said.
Law maintains the relationship with KCLS is firm.
"Our main goal is to construct the nicest facility possible over the river while staying within our budget," Law said via email Tuesday.
The public will get a chance to hear an update of work on the Highlands and downtown library projects at the Committee of the Whole Renton City Council meeting on Sept. 17. Also in the works are open houses on the first Tuesday of each month starting Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Council Conference Center.
Contact Renton Reporter Staff writer Tracey Compton at email@example.com or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.