Parks board mulls library alternatives

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By Pat Grubb

The design and financing of the proposed Point Roberts Library might have been crystal clear at the end of a special parks district meeting but by the time the board members reconvened the following week to plot a course of action, the future looked distinctly muddy.

Seeking public input on how the parks district should bridge the funding gap between the money already raised for a new library and what will actually be needed to build it, park commissioners held a special meeting March 9.  More than 40 people were in attendance at the meeting.

Opening the meeting, parks chair Linda Hughes said she wanted to make it clear that putting a bond up for a public vote was just one option, foreshadowing later comments expressing her opposition to such a move. In turn, commissioners reviewed the project and financing and construction options.

“I want to start by emphasizing that a new library is going to be built; the discussion today is about the gap P1030285between the funding and the revised cost estimates” due to design changes, said Mary Edgeley.  The latest cost estimate, which includes construction, design, permitting, taxes and a contingency in the event that the septic system needs replacement, is $689,000.

New board member Bennett Blaustein  said, “I think the board should support the library and should support the levy. He added that he did not believe the building should be begun until full funding is available which was a reference to calls to begin the construction immediately and proceed to the lock-up stage.

Fellow commissioner Stephen Falk outlined a variety of funding options available to the district, such as a state loan, a bond or even a short-term increase in the park’s M&O levy. “I don’t think there is any doubt that the Memorandum of Understanding (which lays out the obligation of the parks district to meet outstanding costs) is a binding document,” he said.

The public comment section began with remarks from local resident and builder Tom Bradbury who said, “I’m not in favor of remodeling the current building. It’s got too many deficiencies and I think it’s too low. It should be built up so it could drain away from the building. I think you should visualize starting from scratch. I’m in favor of a levy but get enough money to build it right.” Current plans call for remodeling the old Julius firehall next door to the community center. “If old Carl Julius was here tonight, he’d be the first to tell you to tear the old place down,” Bradbury concluded.

Bradbury’s recommended course of action struck a receptive chord in the audience with speaker after speaker agreeing to his suggestion to raise the foundation and to build from new. Heidi Baxter said, “I think we should do a new foundation. I remember seeing a beaver building a dam across the road – I’ll vote yes for a levy for more money than this.”

Barbara Bradstock told the board members, “I strongly urge you to listen to what Tom Bradbury said; I remember driving on Bayview Drive during one of the rain events and the only house that was dry was the one that Tom built.”

Addressing financing, Arthur Reber said going for a $350,000 levy would cost the average homeowner very little in annual taxes.

“You can’t even buy a bottle of water for $1,” he said and was immediately echoed by Pat Harper who related the cost of a beer at the recent anti-tower benefit.

Whatcom County Library System executive director Christine Perkins said, “We are very mindful that it is your community and your decision. However, we do have recent experience with using an existing building and I can tell you it hasn’t been a pretty picture.”

“I’m extremely encouraged with the comments made by Tom Bradbury. I’m really happy that the board is considering starting fresh and I thank Mr. Bradbury for bringing this up,” said Jollena Tylor.

Additional speakers also spoke in favor of taking a fresh approach to construction.

Meeting the following week, Falk related his meeting with county treasurer to discuss financing possibilities, saying that “pretty much all options were available to the district.”

In response, Hughes said she felt the district needed to reach out to the community saying only 15 or so people made comments at the public meeting. “I personally do not support putting any tax levy on the ballot,” she said, and proposed that the district send out a survey to gauge public support. Falk pointed out that a ballot measure would also serve the purpose of determining the public’s wishes.

Speaking against the idea, Judy Ross said, “In my experience, surveys in Point Roberts typically don’t work very well. You’d have to decide right now; what constitutes a valid response. If you only get 20 answers, will you consider that sufficient or will you need another survey?”

Bradbury also attended the meeting to comment further on his recommendations to build anew, suggesting that the board should consider redesigning the library using a rectangular footprint leading to a  less costly structure.

The parks district will be holding a working session at 5:30 p.m., ahead of the regular meeting on Monday, April 11 to consider the next steps to be taken toward the construction of the library.

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