Growing pains

Eight years after it opened, Upper Skagit Library needs more book room.

By Jason Miller
posted 8.26.11

The Upper Skagit Library is too big for its britches—and has been so for the past three years.

Located in the east half of the community resource building at 45770 Main Street in Concrete, the county library has upwards of 10,088 books and periodicals crammed into its modest 1,568 square feet.

The situation is not surprising to library officials. “It’s a nice space, but it was always kind of known that a larger space was going to be needed,” said Keith Alesse, who chairs the library’s board.

There’s no room for any new books, said Alesse. If new books come in, “we have to throw some out,” he said.

Of course, that means they give them to the nonprofit Friends of the Library, which sells them and funnels the proceeds back to the library.

The limiting factor for book quantities is the building’s floor. “We can’t put more weight on it,” said Alesse.

So the library has a few primary options to address the problem:

  • Wait for Town of Concrete to renovate and remodel the lower floor of the Superior Building, and move the library there
  • Buy and renovate an existing building
  • Buy property and build a new library on it

When the library first formed in 2003, its current space was available because it wasn’t being used by Skagit County Community Action, which, along with Concrete Chamber of Commerce, currently occupies the west half of the building.

“Back then, Community Action was small and didn’t need the whole building,” said County Commissioner Sharon Dillon. “I think it was a way to fill the building and, being that it was a rural library, nobody thought it would grow as quickly as it did, and nobody thought the Resource Center would grow as fast as it did.”

“[The library] took it because it was a good price and it was just sitting there ready to be used,” said Alesse.

Examining the options
About a year ago, the board formed a building committee to look at real estate potential in and near Concrete.

The Superior Building has been discussed, “but at the same time that seems like a project that won’t be done in the next couple years,” said Alesse, who also chairs the building committee. “We’re looking for a more immediate solution to the space problem.”

The building committee twice toured the old Cascade Mountain Lodge in Grasmere, which has its pros and cons; the board has decided that the building isn’t a suitable choice.

“You can only leave a building in this rain forest for so many years before it’s so rotted it can’t be salvaged,” said Alesse.

There are buildable lots near Albert’s Red Apple, and in town near the post office, said Alesse, and all of them are under consideration. Much discussion has occurred over whether to relocate in Concrete, near it, or farther east, toward Rockport and Marblemount. “People who live in the Rockport and Marblemount areas would like to see it closer to them, since they’re paying taxes for it. I see the validity in that,” said Alesse.

“Things are definitely still up in the air. Nothing has settled down,” Alesse said. “We’re looking for a bigger space that fits within our budget. Where that bigger space will be is unknown, whether it’s an existing building, a new building, or some other approach.”

The library has saved about $283,000 in Timber Tax money, which is “not enough to build a new building, but it’s a useful amount of money,” said Alesse.

The board also has investigated grants, trying to determine if it makes sense to aim for a bigger building with more bells and whistles—and funding it with grants—or to try for something that fits its budget as it currently stands.

“There’s also been some minor talk about going for a levy lid lift, but I think the general feeling is that it’s not the right time to do that, economically speaking,” said Alesse.

Dillon hopes to have conversations about the library with its board and proponents. “I have some ideas I want to kick around,” she said.

Grant covenants prevent the Resource Center building from being used for other purposes until 2013; after that, Dillon surmises, perhaps the library could buy the west half of the building and the Resource Center could move to the Concrete Center after an addition was built for it.

“There are logistics and money issues, and political will surrounding how you get these things to happen, but I want to sit down and have frank conversations about what is the best for both buildings, and how do we accomplish this?” said Dillon. “Does the library want to remodel? Or do they want a brand-new building? I don’t want to put ideas in their heads. I want them to develop what’s best for their needs, and then see how I can help.”

With so many variables at play, the library isn’t rushing its decision. “It’s a process that can take time, and maybe the story will be different four years from now,” said Alesse.

Eight years after opening in 2003, the Upper Skagit Library has run out of room for books and periodicals. The 1,568-square-foot space at 45770 Main Street in Concrete holds upwards of 10,088 books, and for three years has been getting rid of old books as it adds new ones. The library formed a building committee about a year ago, which has performed land surveys in and near Concrete to determine if any suitable sites are available for building a new facility. The committee also is examining existing buildings for possible adaptive reuse opportunities.

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