An issue once thought settled is now before Renton voters again: the location of a downtown library.
To say the least, this matter has struck a chord and divided the community.
The idea of relocating the downtown library from its scenic perch over the Cedar River is unimaginable to some who’ve voiced their opinions at City Hall or signed their support on an initiative to stop the move to the Piazza.
Conversely, it has been touted by some City of Renton officials and business owners as a way to revitalize the business district and heart of the city.
Looking at the timeline of events inside today’s Renton Reporter it may appear jarring as to how the city wound up here, with an Aug. 7 election vote to determine the site of the downtown library.
This is after the City Council had already put into motion plans to relocate the downtown library to a site west of the Piazza.
After all, in 2008 a Renton Library Master Plan recommended that Renton’s library system stay independent, while still upholding a borrowing agreement with KCLS.
Contrast that to February 2010, when the city held an election for voters to decide whether the city should annex to KCLS and turn over their beloved libraries to the system.
What perpetuated the change in direction?
The answer, in summary, was that the library issue had reached a crossroad where Renton residents had to decide between annexing to KCLS or passing a levy to upgrade its library services.
The vote was close – just a 53-vote difference – and ultimately Renton annexed into KCLS.
That move attracted attention later as critics said it was not clear that KCLS would build new libraries, at Renton’s expense, for the Highlands and downtown branches.
As the City Council voted to issue $18 million bonds to pay for construction of the Highlands and downtown libraries, opposition mounted.
Each council meeting on the downtown library was increasingly filled with those for and against the relocation of the library over the Cedar River.
The grassroots effort, called the Citizens for the Preservation of the Cedar River Library, came to a head when it started collecting signatures for a ballot measure to halt the process.
Ultimately, the initiative was validated but not adopted by City Council; but the group’s efforts were rewarded when the council took another look at the issue.
Explaining that the public should have a say in where the downtown library is located, the City Council voted unanimously to put the site selection on the August 7 election ballot.
In the meantime, the City of Renton has invested $1 million on property acquisition and design work since selecting the site west of the Piazza. KCLS has not stopped work to design the new library at the Piazza.