Methow Valley News, August 28, 2019

Winthrop Town Council OKs new library plan including public space

AUGUST 28, 2019 BY DON NELSON

FOWL addresses concerns about increased costs

The Winthrop Town Council has signed off on a 7,300-square- foot plan for a new public library, including community space that will be maintained by the town.

At their meeting last week, a majority of council members were satisfied with maintenance cost estimates provided by Friends of the Winthrop Library (FOWL), the nonprofit group that is spearheading the library building effort.

Earlier, council members had expressed concerns that the town would absorb additional maintenance costs for the 1,300-square-foot portion (including public meeting spaces and bathrooms) that would be Winthrop’s responsibility. The public library portion of the building will be 6,000 square feet and will be maintained with support from the North Central Regional Library (NCRL).

The two portions of the building will be connected by a hallway with controlled access to the library portion, which could be closed off when not in operation. The public space would be available for a variety of activities.

The new library will be built on a .81-acre parcel purchased by the town, on White Avenue near Little Star Montessori School. FOWL has subsequently acquired funds to purchase a smaller adjacent parcel on White Avenue to provide more room for parking and better traffic flow. The preliminary plans for the library assumed that the project would be able to use both parcels.

FOWL will turn the library over to the town of Winthrop when completed. The NCRL, system, of which the Winthrop library is a part, will provide furnishings, staff and equipment for the new building, as well as a reimbursement for maintenance of the portion of the building devoted to library use. Plans now call for groundbreaking in 2020 and completion in 2022.

Expense concerns

At the earlier council meeting, council member Bill McAdow said he would not want to see the town’s finances stretched to accommodate the new building, and that he’s wary of “hidden costs.”

Last week, FOWL Executive Director Jill Sheley appeared before the council to review FOWL’s projections of maintenance costs for the new building, which include support from NCRL. She said that “the net effect on the town is marginal compared to today’s costs.” If solar panels can be installed on the new building, utility costs could decrease, she said.

Sheley also noted that FOWL and NCRL have been in discussions about doubling the number of hours the Winthrop library is open each week, from 29 to 58.

McAdow said that “I feel like my [earlier] questions brought about all this good information.”

The council approved a motion to accept the 7,300-square-foot plan with McAdow, Joseph O’Driscoll and William Kilby voting in favor, and Kirsten Vanderhalf opposed. Council member Ben Nelson was absent.

Vanderhalf said she is not opposed to the library, but that the town already has other facilities that need attention and are not getting it.

McAdow said the building’s benefits “outweigh other considerations.”

“It never gets cheaper to build,” McAdow said. “Let’s spend it while we’ve got it.”

Mayor Sally Ranzau said the new building “is going to give us a social infrastructure that we don’t now have … for all kinds of groups.”

In a memo to the council, Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said that “FOWL’s goal is a net zero expense to the town over existing library expenses. They do not want the new library to be a burden to the community.”

After the building is completed, FOWL may remain involved as “an active managing volunteer organization, working alongside NCRL to keep operational expenses at a minimum for the town.”

Culp said a final construction agreement is being worked out and may be ready for review at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting.

FOWL estimates that the building’s costs will not exceed $4.5 million. The state Legislature’s recently adopted capital budget includes $2 million to support the new library’s construction; most of the rest is expected to be raised through private donations.

The existing library was always intended to be a temporary site. With less than 1,200 square feet, the library has no room for expansion and is often crowded, particularly for special events. Although small, the Winthrop library has the highest per-capita usage in the NCRL system.

Article originally appeared here