August 7th you have the opportunity to vote on a very important issue facing our city: the location of our downtown library, either at the existing over the river site or west of the Piazza site. While the current location over the Cedar River is beautiful and nostalgic, here is why the library should be relocated west of the Piazza.
First and foremost, if the library is located west of the Piazza downtown, the Cedar River building will not be destroyed, abandoned or sold. It will continue as a public use building for years to come. At the request of the City, the Liberty Park Library Citizens Steering Committee recommended alternative uses for the building. The most popular recommended were an environmental interpretive center and an arts and cultural center. Kids from all over the region could come to learn about the endangered salmon, spawning, as well as other environmental factors that play a large part in the recovery of this important species. The Committee concluded the space should be used to enhance our public activities and events. We couldn’t agree more. The beautiful, iconic building we all love will stay in use, and continue to serve our community and families. A cost estimate for a minor renovation to bring the building up to code for seismic and roof etc. was $1,800,000. If the environmental interpretive center use were chosen, Federal grants are available to mitigate the costs.
Second, the cost of moving the library west of the Piazza will be less than keeping it at the current location. Two professional cost estimates range from more than $10,100,000 to over $13,200,000 to renovate the over the river library. When you begin to tear down walls, you never know what surprises await. Cost overruns due to the complexity of construction over the river, delays for permitting and law suits could impact the true cost of keeping the library where it is. Some of the permitting that will be required includes:
City administered 1) SEPA, 2) Site Plan Review (required when the value of the improvement exceeds 50% of the assessed value) and 3) Shoreline Substantial Development Permit--this permit is administered by the City but approval comes from the State Department of Ecology. Any interested party, including individuals, the Muckleshoot Tribe, King County Department of Natural Resources, and other state agencies may comment and file appeals to the City Council, Superior Court, Court of Appeals and State Supreme Court.
In addition to the City permitting process, because the major rebuild (vs. renovation) would break the flood plain, a Federal Nationwide Permit administered by the Army Corps of Engineers would be necessary and other Federal agencies would submit their own review and comment, including FEMA and National Marine Fisheries Service among others. The State would mandate a permitting process for a Hydraulic Project Approval through the Washington State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. These are not the only permits that may be required, however. Permits are issued sequentially, not concurrently. There is no way to estimate the length of time and costs involved through court challenges to ALL of these permits that would be required under the major rebuild of the existing Cedar River Library. Since a significant amount of time, in some cases, many years may pass, construction costs will rise above budgeted amounts. Assuming all the permits have been granted, the library would be closed an estimated two years during reconstruction, again this estimate is subject to salmon run placing limitations on construction over the river. Temporary relocation costs including those for a kiosk pick up and drop off site are estimated at $400,000 per year. Contrast the timing and opening of the West of the Piazza site as completed by end of 2013, operational at the beginning of 2014, with no interruption in library services downtown.
Why Cost is Important: The City of Renton issued $18,000,000 in bonds to build TWO state of the art libraries as required in the KCLS annexation: the new 15,000 square foot Highlands branch and a new downtown branch. The Piazza site is budgeted at $9,300,000 and the Highlands is budgeted at $10,000,000. The more it costs to renovate the Cedar River library to a state of the art condition, the larger the impact on the funds available for the TWO libraries. The City has spent $1,000,000 in land acquisition and design fees already, leaving only $17,000,000 to cover $23,300,000+ if the over the river library is retained. Two outcomes are possible: The need to “value engineer”, or cut corners, for the two buildings will result in bare bones facilities compared to what would be available with the original budget. The other outcome is the City spends more taxpayer dollars to cover the shortfalls, which are unknown now. Voting for west of the Piazza location, Renton citizens will have TWO 21st century libraries AND retain the over the river building for little more than the approximate cost to renovate the existing structure.
Location, location, location: The highly visible site west of the Piazza provides easy and equal access for all. It will draw more people to visit downtown Renton and in turn, allows us to have pride in a vibrant downtown. Three new small businesses have recently located nearby in anticipation of the new Piazza library. The site is located close to the transit core, maximizing access to public transportation and there is ample parking: 40 onsite spots, plus 137 on street parking within a one block radius and over 500 parking spots in the nearby parking garage. The Piazza site is near residences, community celebrations and downtown businesses, such as the farmer’s market, car show and holiday events. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a bite to eat at the nearby shops are an additional convenience. The Piazza library is close to two schools and offers much needed services to Renton High School and St. Anthony’s students. The students can work together after school on projects at the library.
The Cedar River building is a source of Renton pride and we appreciate the passion surrounding this issue. We as Renton citizens are voting not only for ourselves, but for generations to come. The Cedar River building will remain over the river. We need the library relocated downtown, west of the Piazza, to ensure that every generation will have equal access to state-of-the-art library services at a price Renton can afford.
—Laurie Beden, Renton