Piazza site makes most sense for downtown library | Renton Reporter editorial

The Renton Reporter has consistently maintained that the city should stick by its original plan to build a new library at the Piazza in downtown Renton.

There has been nothing new in recent months to change our mind, even a citizens initiative to put the location to a vote. In fact our concerns have deepened, because of the growing costs to renovate the library over the Cedar River.

While we strongly support the public’s right to vote on important matters, we also believe strongly that we elect a city council to make important decisions for us and to enter into contracts fully informed and with every intention to honor them.

A good reason must exist to set aside contractual relationships, or to at least strain them, especially if doing so will cost the city millions of dollars. We do not dispute that the library over the Cedar River is iconic and much-beloved. But that nostalgia is not a good reason to potentially cost the city extra millions of dollars to renovate that library, when there’s a legitimate, less costly option.

From the beginning it’s been clear that in all formal documents Renton’s elected leaders agreed to build two new libraries. And while we don’t agree with her position, Marcie Palmer is the only City Council member through her votes who has steadfastly supported keeping the library over the Cedar River.

So, here’s why the core of our position remains the same:

• The city’s formal relationship with the King County Library System goes back to July 2009, when it was clearly spelled out that the city would build two replacement libraries for KCLS if annexation should occur.

• Renton voters (yes, by a narrow margin) in 2010 decided to annex to the King County Library System, recognizing that the City of Renton could no longer afford to run its own library system when weighed against critical public services. The city’s budget has not fully recovered from the recession.

• It was also clear (in the 2010 voters’ pamphlet and elsewhere) at the time of the vote that annexation would mean the city would have to build two new libraries for KCLS. Even if that fact was lost on many voters, it should not have been lost on the five current City Council members who voted for the initial 2009 agreement.

• Although the process has been under way for two years, it was only a year ago that a citizens group formed that eventually took several months and an extra effort to put the idea of a public vote before the City Council. It’s at that point the City Council should have stood by the city’s contracts and voted not to put the location to a vote.

Unfortunately, what’s really missing today is clarity, especially about the cost to renovate the library over the Cedar. That price tag is now $13.1 million, according to KCLS, higher than before; rarely do construction costs go down. The city can’t afford that extra $3.6 million without adding to an $18 million bond issue (more money from taxpayers’ wallets) or negotiating with KCLS for something that’s less than a state-of-the-art library.

Renton doesn’t have to go down that road. A library at the Piazza fulfills the goal of the city and KCLS to build a new modern library that will serve Renton for decades. That cost is certain and within the city’s budget. The city honors its contracts.

And, the citizens of Renton get to keep that one-of-a-kind building over the Cedar River. Don’t be misled by assertions that it will cost the city $10 million (or more) to upgrade it for another use. That’s only true for  a state-of-the-art library.

The city could continue using the building right away, with no renovation. When the time is right, it could seek the dollars needed to upgrade for a specific use, just like any other city-owned building.

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