Council takes step forward with plans for new city library


June 2, 2021

OAK HEIGHTS students visit the library in 2016. A needs assessment has concluded that the city needs to expand and update the facility, which was constructed in 1969.

A consultant has completed a "library needs assessment" for the Sweet Home Library.

The library's current facility, at the corner of 13th and Kalmia streets, opened in 1969 and has largely been untouched since then, and the City Council authorized the needs assessment in 2019 to address problems with the current library facility's size and structure.

The needs assessment has been conducted over the last couple years by representatives from FFA Architecture and Interiors, Inc., a Portland firm that designed the Lebanon Justice Center and prepared a master plan for Linn-Benton Community College.

Given the Sweet Home Library facility's age, the report concluded that "the current building suffers from many deficiencies. It is cramped and noisy with inadequate seating and spaces for children, teens and events that restrict the library's ability to serve its community.

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The FFA team conducted an assessment of the current facility and the library's IT needs, analyzed community demographics, reviewed library usage patterns, conducted a community survey, interviews and focus groups with library staff and stakeholders, and compared current service levels with best planning practices in the library industry.

The space recommendations that result from this work indicate the need for the following, according to the report:

- 61 lounge and table seats for public use (there are currently 36);

- Expanded and redesigned areas for children and teens;

- A family space for young children ages 0-5 and their caregivers;

- A Teen Scene for teenagers/young adults;

- 24 public access computers, including 12 laptops (there are currently 10);

- Increased programming/meeting room capacity;

According to the report, "The issues facing the aging Sweet Home Library are typical of libraries sharing its size and locale."

Sweet Home's needs are not unique, judging by a 2017 study entitled "Rural Libraries in the United States," which states that, "broadly speaking, rural libraries are small, and their buildings are less up-to-date."

In order to fit the needs of the community into the future, the needs assessment recommended that the new library be 13,326 square feet.

The consultant team worked with the city staffers to assess three potential properties that could house the new library.

These sites were the Boys and Girls Club, the current library's existing parking lot, and the old City Hall on 12th Avenue, across the parking lot to the west from the current library.

The old City Hall was identified in the needs assessment as the best potential location for a future library due to "several factors," the report says.

"The property is located near the existing library and parking lot, which allows access from the community and nearby schools. The property is also owned by the city, is large enough to fit the entire required program on a single level, and allows for limited parking on the immediate property," the report concluded.

The needs assessment was presented to the Library Board, which unanimously recommended that the City Council "accept the needs assessment" said City Manager Ray Towry.

The assessment was presented to the City Council at its May 25 meeting.

"I hope that this council looks at a variety of things when we decide if we're going to do a new library in terms of where we put that library," said Councilor Diane Gerson, who sits on the Library Board. "I think we have some additional things to look at (rather than locations suggested by the needs assessment)."

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In terms of choosing a location, Councilor Lisa Gourley said, "We do need to remember traffic flow, and that we have businesses down in the core area that need more traffic flow. So we need to think about what we are doing to our community when we move something like the library around."

Santiam Feed Store - across from the Sweet Home Post Office

She also said that "I think this is a wonderful opportunity to invest within our community in a way that solidifies that we believe in them. Communities that are progressive as far as growth, communities that are successful, they make these kind of investments."

"Anybody that's been inside a Borders bookstore knows that it offers unlimited possibilities to get people in there to read, and to enjoy that time and reinvigorate themselves," Gerson noted.

"A library doesn't have to be stuffy books on a shelf. It can be a great place for people to come to."

Mayor Greg Mahler said, "When it comes to bringing jobs to a community and prospective employers, they're going to look at the whole picture. They're going to look at our police, fire, library, schools, City Hall, everything as a whole. Total infrastructure. So if we've got our act together and look like we're playing with the big boys and are professional in all aspects of our infrastructure, that's what's going to be the tilting factor in bringing business to our community."

The council agreed to a unanimous consensus to direct city staff to prepare a "request for proposal" and get an architect on board to begin looking at designs for a new building and nail down a location.


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