Tourists weigh in on library changes | LETTER TO THE EDITOR

"We wanted to form our own opinion about this controversial building because a library is an important community resource and every part of the building – location, architecture, interior – must be well suited to its purpose."

As visitors to Renton, we hesitated before offering our views about the recently re-opened Cedar River Library but as library lovers and users decided to share our comments about the KCLS remodeling based on our “before” and “after” visits in 2013 and now.

We wanted to form our own opinion about this controversial building because a library is an important community resource and every part of the building – location, architecture, interior – must be well suited to its purpose.

In 2013 we felt that the original brick building was sympathetically integrated into its unique river and parkland location and the interior was light, comfortable and welcoming. This year we were horrified to see a grotesque, metal-sided, warehouse-style building in its place – almost brutalist in appearance and an eyesore totally out of keeping with its surroundings.

Unfortunately, things got worse. Funneled through a clinical entrance into a mostly dark grey interior, we were surprised to see an unfinished attempt at industrial chic – a ceiling criss-crossed by girders and vent pipes with missing facing boards exposing dozens of protruding nails – a haven for insect webs and dust, posing obvious maintenance difficulties as well as significant problems for people with asthma and respiratory disorders.

There are other issues about visitor comfort and health and safety. How thermally efficient is the metal siding? What is its impact on temperature, air conditioning, ventilation and energy use? The suspended fluorescent tube lighting, always a poor replacement for natural light (from the original clerestory windows), has well-documented negative effects on people with visual impairment, migraine and epilepsy. The busy carpet patterns also detract from a calm visual ambience.

JJ Pajor (Letter to the Editor, Aug. 28) mentioned other safety risks associated with the metal cables of the bridge walkway railings, which we noted too. Also the metal seats outside will be too hot to sit on for much of the year.

While we are pleased that the library remains on its riverside site and that people were using its facilities when we visited, we were saddened by the noticeable reduction in the quality of materials used in the remodeling. These, like the uncomfortable seating and furnishings, will deteriorate quickly into a shabby environment.

We also noticed the absence of artwork and plants – things that always enrich public spaces – and wonder what happened to the large metal relief panels and the tapestry along the west side, all present in 2013? These were part of the original building and it would be lovely to see them reinstated.

Everything about the remodeling smacks of cost-cutting at the expense of providing a safe, esthetically pleasing environment for library users. It’s disappointing that KCLS has produced a discordant building and has missed many opportunities to create a genuinely user-friendly facility.

Jolene Sims and Katrina Shacknove,
Oxford, England

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