Details: North Highline consolidation discussed, delayed at Library Board meeting

Story and photos by Deanie Schwarz
Reporting for White Center Now

We’ve already reported that, when the King County Library Services Board of Trustees met Tuesday evening in the North Bend Library, board members voted to delay a potential vote on the Library Service Area Analysis for North Highline and related staff recommendations. Here are details of how that unfolded:

Speakers advocating for a delay in any vote to proceed with consolidation of the Boulevard Park and White Center Library’s included King County 8th District Councilmember Joe McDermott. He told the Board that the issue of potential annexation for the areas remained very much in flux, since Seattle’s councilmembers have said they will revisit the issue next February, but won’t stand in the way if Burien wants to pursue annexation sooner.

Considering that, and the indication that Burien’s council may start annexation discussion this summer, Councilmember McDermott encouraged the Board to delay any action or vote regarding the libraries for at least a year when such consideration might be more appropriate, or at least might provide enough time for the process to move forward more definitively.

Director Bill Ptacek said that the Board had already delayed a decision regarding the North Highline area and that the interim result of that delay was the Library Service Analysis recently conducted by surveying people online and over the phone. The surveys, according to Project Manager Jennifer Wiseman, provided a lot of feedback regarding much-needed improvements to the Boulevard Park and White Center Libraries which would be addressed by the now seven-year old 2004 bond funds. The survey also, she said, “tested” the consolidation idea via two questions and suggested there’s support for it – in the first question, about 65% support via the phone surveys (800 respondents) and 44% online. Then, when the second question was asked with specific details about consolidation, the support increased 5% on the phone interviews and 10% on the online questionnaires, yielding just slightly over 54% approval online). Wiseman also noted that the online respondents were not representative of the community and skewed the results because they were predominantly white female college graduates over 50.

White Center Library Guild President Rachel Levine and North Highline Unincorporated Area Council members Pat Price (a Boulevard Park resident) and Barbara Dobkin (a White Center resident) also spoke. Price pointed out to the Board that White Center has a high percentage of people without vehicles, as well as little east-west bus service, so the walking distance from schools and homes to libraries is important. Dobkin told the Board that she and other voters who supported the 2004 bond did so with the understanding that bond funds would be put toward improvements as designated within the bonds, not a closure or consolidation. “This isn’t what we voted for.”

Ptacek, in addressing the reallocation of the 2004 bond funds, said that the recommendation to reallocate the bond funds to a new library are based on the “good bids we’ve been getting” for construction. The Library Guild’s Levine expressed her concerns about the impartiality of the agency that conducted the surveys, but also read a letter on behalf of the Guild vowing to continue to work together with the KCLS Board.

A community member and retired teacher who now volunteers at Cascade and works with White Center youth in service projects held up a photograph of the kids “to whom we have a moral responsibility.” Kids in the Highline area are out of school on Fridays early and they need a safe place to study, away from crowded, noisy homes and where they have access to resources, she said, imploring the Board not to forget the children of White Center.

Board Trustee Bill Spitzer moved that any decision be postponed until the next Board meeting in June (to be held in Issaquah at the Library Services Center). He said that he was reluctant to vote with only three of the five Board members present. He also said he was sensitive to the logistical dilemma for White Center residents who might not have been able to attend a meeting 45 miles away, even though more than a dozen community meetings have been held on the matter.

With that, the motion was seconded, and the action item to address the North Highline Library Service recommendations was delayed until at least next month’s meeting. Board President Eadie asked the staff to provide the Board a list of potential sites, if any are known, for a new North Highline location at that meeting.

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