Future Of North Burien Libraries Could Be Decided In North Bend Today
This afternoon (May 24) at 5 p.m. in North Bend – about as far away from Burien as possible in King County – the fate of the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries may be decided.
The King County Library Board of Trustees will have before it a proposal – submitted by King County Library System Director Bill Ptacek – to merge the two North Burien libraries into a single new facility.
Burien Mayor Joan McGilton and Councilmembers Rose Clark and Jack Block Jr. are to meet with library board members at 1:30 p.m. today to urge them to delay action on the proposal, and to make a final decision only after the plan is discussed locally so affected patrons can participate.
King County Councilman Joe McDermott, whose 8th County Council District includes Burien, made the same request in a letter sent to library board members last week (read it here).
But Burien City Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak, who also serves on the King County Library Board, won’t attend either meeting. Nor will she urge her library board colleagues to postpone consideration or to leave the two north city libraries open to serve their neighborhoods.
Despite the fact that library board members, including Krakowiak, are appointed rather than elected, she told The B-Town Blog Monday she would recuse herself from considering the North Burien libraries issue under any circumstances to avoid a conflict of interest.
When reminded that, since the city annexed North Burien, she now represents the patrons of those libraries on the city council, Krakowiak said her position was unchanged and she would still not participate in the discussion.
“We were going to present the [library consolidation] proposal at the May meeting … and will,” Ptacek told The B-Town Blog. “The board will choose to act or not act. It’s up to them. Our job is to get [them] a recommendation.
“It just happens to be that the May meeting has been scheduled all year at North Bend” for discussion of a local library issue. “We did that earlier in White Center.”
Now, Ptacek continued, the board “may or may not act on” the North Burien proposal. “My sense is that if they are concerned, they will not” take action today, but eventually “they will have to decide” what to do.
Greater Library Board Accountability?
Clark, who called the proposed consolidation “a wrong-headed way to go about serving communities,” told The B-Town Blog it is time to consider electing library board members, who oversee the multi-million dollar budget of the nation’s second largest library system.
“There needs to be some fiduciary responsibility” by library board members directly to King County taxpayers, Clark said. “I am totally blown away that the library trustees are not elected, yet they affect lives everywhere in King County and handle huge sums of money.”
McGilton, who agreed, also said there should be “several meetings” by the library board in the Burien area before a final decision is made on the future of the two libraries.
Ptacek’s push to consolidate the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries is just one controversy involving the library system in South King County alone.
Not long ago, Renton opted to join the King County system. Now the library board is also about to consider an unpopular plan locally to consolidate that city’s two libraries.
And city officials in Des Moines are outraged at recent actions by library system staff that, they say, places privacy concerns ahead of public safety.
“There need to be some answers talked about,” Clark said as she and McGilton agreed these matters suggest it may be time to consider an investigation of the King County Library System by the King County Council.
Des Moines Mayor Bob Sheckler, who has sent the library board a letter protesting the administration’s decision to remove security cameras from libraries, said while he is not familiar with the North Burien library situation, based on his recent experience “it is apparent there should be some review of the King County Library System.”
Block agreed that the library system’s “taxing authority needs elected [trustee] oversight.” But rather than an investigation by the county council, he said the appropriate agency to scrutinize it is the State Auditor’s Office.
2004 Bond Issue Included White Center, Boulevard Park
The controversy over the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries is rooted in a 2004 King County Library System bond issue, which raised funds to build or remodel libraries throughout the county.
Construction of the new downtown Burien Library, which opened in 2009, was part of that bond issue. So was expansion of the White Center Library to 10,000 square feet and major improvements to the Boulevard Park Library.
But when Seattle expressed an interest in annexing the remaining North Highline unincorporated area, the library system pulled back from proceeding with work on the North Burien libraries.
Ptacek has told both the Burien City Council and the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council that annexation by Seattle would take away too much of the service areas of the two libraries, and keeping them open would not pencil out.
The library system then began studying the possibility of consolidating the libraries in a new centrally located building.
Library Staff Pushes for Consolidation
Yet even after Seattle indicated last winter that it might not annex North Highline and would not oppose Burien moving forward with annexation, the library system administration at Ptacek’s direction has continued planning for consolidation.
At a meeting of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council in early March, Ptacek said the library system had four options: keep both the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries open while it waits on the outcome of the annexation process; move one or both libraries farther south, consolidate them into a new facility, or close both libraries.
He also made it clear that currently favorable construction costs make it practical to build a new facility to consolidate both libraries now, not later.
Ptacek repeated this Monday, noting that “after all the study that we’ve done and that we don’t know how annexation will turn out in the Highline area,” this is a good time to move forward.
“We could start on a project” to build a consolidated library building in North Burien “right away … the environment for bidding is good,” he continued. It is “better to do something sooner rather than later.”
And an “attractive new building “for the entire community” in the North Highline area “would be a desirable thing.”
Although the library board “could wait for us to see how annexation works out, it may take years to get that resolved and we don’t want to wait years,” Ptacek continued. “I think the community wants to move ahead, and that’s what our community survey shows.”
But, countered McGilton, the community survey – conducted both by phone and online – to which Ptacek points, “was skewed, seriously skewed.” It was weighted to produce a result favoring consolidation, she said, adding that she received complaints about the survey.
“I believe libraries are important whether they are in the community or in schools,” Clark declared. “This is what government should be doing. There should be more libraries, not fewer.”
- The Board meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the North Bend Library, located at 115 E. 4th, North Bend 98045; 425-888-0554 (info here).
- The agenda for the meeting can be downloaded here (PDF file).