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KCLS sparks intense discussion with downtown library plans

Renton residents get their first look at exterior drawings of the proposed new downtown library during an Open House March 26. - Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter
Renton residents get their first look at exterior drawings of the proposed new downtown library during an Open House March 26.
— image credit: Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter

In an intense meeting, King County Library System staff and consultants Tuesday night presented the Renton community with two options for the interior space planning of a new downtown library. One option was presented for the library exterior.

A majority of those attending did not participate in KCLS' small-group discussions, instead demanding the design team address the huge crowd's concerns as a whole. From the start, KCLS' presentation was fraught with loud interruptions from the audience asking, then telling staff they want direct and open communication. The library's public-address system failed, making it hard to hear the speakers.

The library system has been criticized at its recent public meetings for its proposed design, which would create a smaller library over the Cedar River and move the main entry from the pedestrian bridge to near the parking lot. KCLS has also been accused by some community members of not including public feedback on the design and withholding information. Some are upset because there have been many on-going meetings to collect that information from the community.

Library Director Bill Ptacek opened the presentation, but was interrupted by Renton resident Chris Clifford and others, who announced they wanted a different format for the open house. Clifford told the crowd to stay in its seats and not break into groups to hear KCLS' design rationale. The attendees filled one wing of the library and spilled into standing-room-only areas.

Ptacek and Ruth Baleiko, of architectural firm Miller Hull, continued their address to the group. They pinned their design decisions to the standard put forth in the interlocal agreement with the City of Renton and the constraints of an $8.9 million budget. Baleiko presented two options for interior space planning for the audience to comment on later.

She gave a summary of the budget breakdown for the intended renovation. Building envelope upgrades are estimated to take up 29 percent of the budget; plumbing, 4 percent; mechanical, 25 percent; seismic upgrades, 23 percent, and 19 percent for finishes. The latter does not include books or furniture, which will come from a separate KCLS fund.

When the project team finished its explanation and approach to operational issues, Ptacek called for the crowd to break up and attend smaller stations to have their questions answered and give feedback. His request was loudly refuted by audience members. The majority refused to budge from their seats.

"I am not going to the stations," said Elizabeth Stevens of Renton. "We're staying here along with the majority of people because we want to provide input to the speakers as a group."As a frequent patron of the Cedar River library, Stevens emphatically expressed, as many did, how "critical" the situation is now.

"I think that the critical thing here is that the citizens of Renton have participated in months and months of public input meetings for what's important to the people of Renton and that has been for naught," she said.

Jasper Kinnay of Renton was one of the people who ventured to the stations. He actively questioned Ptacek about library usage in the area and services. After he received his answer, Kinnay told the Renton Reporter he did not feel the dialogue with KCLS has been very effective.

The leadership is not communicating ideas well to the public, he said.

"Even with the best intentions, the communication is not going well," Kinnay said.

Howard McOmber, of Renton, left his comment at a design station and was heard telling design team staff about the "disconnect" he felt between KCLS and the community.

"They haven't come back with anything that shows that they've given serious consideration to the suggestions we've given," he said.

Eventually, Ptacek reconvened the meeting of the large group in one area for a question-and-answer session and recording of people's concerns. The audience spoke up, calling for the current design to stay intact, requesting alternative design options and cost figures and even pleading for a new design competition to request ideas from the world at large, among other comments.

Community activist Stuart Avery asked KCLS to allow the City of Renton to deliberate on adding additional funding to the project before KCLS moves forward.

"We need other options," Avery said.

Baleiko of Miller Hull told the crowd she was doing her best to address their concerns. She is a project manager on the team. Again and again, she broke down figures for estimated construction costs and the current budget. She asked the audience to keep in mind costs reserved for permitting fees, inspections and the like.

"We need to hold money for those pieces that come out of the same wallet," she said.

In the end, Ptacek stressed that no construction bids have been done for the project because that requires a complete set of drawing and the team isn't at that stage yet. He also reiterated technical details about the requirements of the building, such weight-bearing issues or load requirements. After the meeting, Ptacek had this to say: "We had lots of comment; we had lots of participation. We had a lot of people, a big turnout. And we got a lot of comments, so that will be really helpful."

He said staff planned to take the feedback, respond to it and put together another presentation for the April 15 Renton City Council meeting.

Five minutes before closing at 9 p.m., the library over the Cedar River still had a full house of people congregating and talking about it.

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