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City of Oakville nixes proposed library relocation

Plans for a new library facility in Oakville have been quashed, at least for a while.

The Oakville City Council voted against a plan Monday night that would have relocated the existing Timberland Regional Library, located downstairs in City Hall, to Oakville High School’s existing library and to end negotiations over moving the library out of City Hall.

“The city has been in talks about finding a new space for the library for about 20 years,” Oakville Mayor Thomas Sims said Tuesday afternoon. “The council voted not to move forward with this plan and to end negotiations about moving the library from City Hall.”

A few years ago, a former Timberland executive director had suggested building a $2.5 million library to be used by the school and city. But those plans were eliminated in recent years and the proposal was scaled down in size to about $78,000 or so. Timberland spent several thousand dollars on preliminary designs to turn the school library into a TRL facility. But that effort seems moot now as the current Oakville City Council decided to move on from the issue without possible future consideration at its meeting Monday night.

“We’re disappointed,” said Timberland spokesman Jeff Kleingartner on Tuesday. “We have been working together for more than a year with the city and the school district, trying to put an agreement into place.”

The decision comes on the heels of a well-attended town hall meeting at the Oakville schools library on March 19. About 50 people came to the meeting to ask questions regarding the potential move to Mayor Sims, Oakville School District Superintendent Kathy Lorton and Cheryl Heywood, director of the Timberland Regional Library system.

Heywood and Lorton were proponents of the move, while Sims told the crowd, “Personally, my feeling is, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a public library here, but if the citizens want it, I’ll do it.”

Last Friday, Sims, who does not have a vote on the City Council, said he wasn’t sure how the vote might go.

“I’ve fielded a lot of phone calls on this issue and talked to a lot more people … I’m getting a mixed reaction. I think it’s about 50-50 in the town, but it’s the ones who support (the move) who are the loudest.”

It would have cost about $78,000 to make it feasible for the public library to move into this facility,” Heywood told the audience last week. She said $65,000 of that money would have come from the Oakville’s Friends of the Library organization, which has been raising money to improve the library situation for years. The rest of the balance was to come from the Chehalis Tribe, which was also supporting the effort, according to the officials on hand.

Many members of the Friends of the Library attended the meeting and said that their group does not want to spend any more money on the current facility as it is deemed too small and substandard.

The current Oakville library is just over 1,000 square feet, while the facility at the school is almost 2,700 square feet.

Oakville School District Superintendent Kathy Lorton was behind the move as the school hasn’t had a professional librarian on staff for decades and the collection is badly in need of an update, which Timberland would have facilitated had it moved in.

“Our perspective is that we have a facility where we would welcome the rich resources,” Lorton told the crowd of about 50 people. “It would be exciting, but it would only be exciting if it’s a good thing for everybody.”

But there were concerns among some in the audience about moving the public library to the school, mainly due to possible operating hours and security because of what some called “undesirable elements,” who tend to frequent some libraries and can’t be turned away unless they are causing problems.

“To an extent, you can’t restrict who goes into a Timberland Regional Library. Putting it right in the heart of the school doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said one audience member, who noted that the library will likely be closed during most school hours just for that reason. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to move the library down here and have it closed all day.”

Both Heywood and Sims acknowledged that Oakville’s current library is rundown and has many issues that will have to be fixed if the city wants to continue its agreement with Timberland Regional Library. Heywood said there is “a set of priorities” the city must address if Timberland is to remain in the current facility. They include the old carpet and tile, hot water and electrical problems and “several other issues as well.”

Under its longtime agreement with Timberland, the city must provide and pay for a building, water, electricity and maintenance costs for any facility. That means the city would have been on the hook for all utility fees and maintenance of a new library at the schools, while realizing minimal savings on the empty space at City Hall, noting there will always be a charge to heat and maintain the city-owned space.

“That bill will not go away,” Sims said, noting that the city would also have to ante up additional utility and maintenance costs for a building that is owned by the school district.

Mayor Sims said that despite implications that Timberland might pull out of Oakville, he didn’t see it happening and said he will begin efforts soon to get the City Hall facility up to par.

“They said that could be one of the consequences,” Sims said Tuesday afternoon, “but they’re not at that stage because this library is used by a lot of people.”

Sims said the city council would rather move in a new direction rather than move the library.

“Within the next week, I will call Cheryl Heywood for a meeting,” Sims said. “We’ll see what can be done to make that space more useful for everybody. I don’t have a timeline at the moment, but I would like to see everything done in the next year or two.”

Despite the disappointing vote, Kleingartner said Timberland is ready to move on also.

“Now, we turn the page and we start working with the city as to what repairs are necessary to that facility,” he said.