SEQUIM — If funding plans remain intact, Clallam County’s busiest library will get some relief — in the form of a multi-million-dollar expansion.
Officials with the North Olympic Library System — which oversees public libraries in Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay — are keeping their collective eyes on House Bill 1080, legislation that earmarks $6.5 billion in new capital projects in the 2021-23 fiscal biennium statewide.
The House version — which would provide $2 million to NOLS and $2 million to the Jefferson County rural library system — lists Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, a District 24 legislator, as the lead sponsor.
A companion version already has passed the Senate.
In October, library officials were notified that the Sequim Library’s application had been selected as a recommended project and was ranked fifth out of 33 applications; the recommendation was for full funding, NOLS Executive Director Noah Glaude said.
“We’re feeling good about that (ranking); we feel the need has been demonstrated for quite some time,” Glaude said this week.
If passed, the legislation could fund significant upgrades at the Sequim Library, including additional square footage for adequate spacing of public seating, computers and shelving; ADA-accessible bathrooms for the public and staff; expanded meeting room space with improved emergency exits, and additional staff work area, including individual offices and storage.
“It’s still a little more compact than what we were aiming for before, (but) we’re able to address all the critical pieces,” Glaude said.
For the better part of 20 years, NOLS officials have been trying to mitigate the increased usage of the library at 630 N. Sequim Ave.
Library officials in 2018 brought a $13.4 million bond proposal to voters to replace the library with a larger facility because of growing use.
While voters did approve the formation of a separate library taxing district at the same time, community support for the expansion itself fell short, garnering 58.5 percent of the required 60 percent supermajority required for passage.
Glaude calls the newer plan “significantly smaller” than the 2018 proposal based simply on the concept of adding on to the existing structure rather than tearing it down and building anew.
“The existing building definitely has some challenges, such as fire lane access; it’s such a narrow (piece of property),” Glaude said.
“(But) we’re are able to create more meeting space, space for students to study or to tutor, increase the number of computers available.”
After the COVID-19 outbreak led NOLS to close its facilities to the public last spring, the library system began offering remote services and online resources. Curbside library service began in June.
The 5,700-square-foot Sequim Library became NOLS’ busiest branch, receiving 26 percent more patron visits between June and December 2020 than the 30,000-square-foot main NOLS branch in Port Angeles.
The Sequim branch was too small and outdated to serve the growing population even before the COVID outbreak, NOLS officials said.
With the public allowed back into facilities, visitors to the Sequim branch are currently limited to 15 minutes because of space issues — patrons at all other NOLS branches are allowed 30 minutes — and the public meeting room in Sequim is now being used as a staff work room.
Construction in 2022
If funded, actual construction on the Sequim Library would probably not take place until 2022, Glaude said. Before then, two requests for qualifications (RFQs) would go out — one for architectural designs, a second for the construction itself — and a proverbial ground-breaking possibly by June 2022.
Library officials would likely shift services to an alternate site for nine to 12 months, Glaude said, and be back up and running by mid-2023.
“What we’ve heard in the past is that it’s way easier to empty the building (for the construction’s duration),” Glaude said.
Fortunately, he said, the library system has some recent experience in that. In 2012, NOLS did a complete renovation of the Forks branch and moved the library off-site.
Earlier this month, NOLS’ board of trustees approved funding for a bookmobile, and Glaude said that, while the vehicle — targeted to begin service in early 2022 — is projected to service the county’s West End, it could be used to deliver services to areas such as Diamond Point and Agnew if needed.
The Library Capital Improvement Program was created by the state Legislature in 2019 to help libraries to acquire, construct or rehabilitate their facilities.
The maximum grant amount to any one entity can’t exceed $2 million and a 50 percent match of the total project cost required. NOLS has the matching funds required for the grant in capital reserve.
Priority is given to library facilities located in distressed or rural areas; Clallam County is both, NOLS officials note.
Glaude said library representatives feel confident the funding will come through, with state Reps. Tharinger and Mike Chapman and state Sen. Kevin Van DeWege showing support for the library’s bond issue in 2018.
For more information about the Sequim Library Project, including conceptual plans and drawings and the project’s history, see nols.org/sequimlibraryproject.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].