Library expansion plans near final chapter

The Hood River County Library has reached the final chapter in its plans for a major expansion and renovation project that is set to begin in July.

Since voter approval of a $3 million bond levy in November of 2000, the Library Foundation has been working with both county and city officials to hammer out numerous construction challenges at the State Street facility.

A central point of concern has been blending the old and new faces of the aging structure to preserve its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That concern was made more complex by the need to scale back the original $6 million "dream" plans to fit in with the existing budget, which also includes $400,000 in private contributions.

On March 21, the Foundation netted a first approval for meeting those intertwined goals when the revised architectural designs from the Portland-based firm of Fletcher Farr Ayote were signed off by the Hood River Landmarks Review Board. That quasi-judicial body is charged with looking over all building schematics to ensure they meet the design guidelines of the historic downtown district that was established in 1994. The new library drawings will be examined by the Hood River City Planning Commission at 6:30 p.m. on April 17 in the municipal courtroom on the corner of Second and State streets.

In June 2001 the Library Foundation initiated the Completion Campaign to raise the $600,000 needed to buy new books, furnishings and technology equipment not allocated under the bond levy. The group also hopes to be able to pay Baugh Construction of Tualatin, hired as the general contractor for the project, to add two 850-square foot wings onto its anticipated eight-month work load.

"Legally, we cannot use the bond monies for these aspects of the project, but we definitely want the new library to have more books, more computers and more space for programs," said Paul Lindberg, Foundation grant writer.

During his eight months on the job, Lindberg has netted $81,600 from private foundations and charitable organizations. However, $50,000 of that funding was contributed as a challenge grant by Paul G. Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Seahawks sports teams.

"We have until October to raise our $50,000 share of that money and we are challenging the community to show Paul Allen that we can do this," said Lindberg.

"This library project is an opportunity for us to tell our grandchildren and their children something about ourselves," he said. "We have the chance to tell them that we think reading is important, that libraries are important, that our community is important, and that we thought of them, cared about them and built this library for them."

June Knudson, county librarian, is hopeful the community will step forward with at least $150,000 of the remaining capital and the Foundation will be able to score the remaining $450,000 from other endowments. She said the 12-member Foundation has already obtained seven computer terminals from the Bill Gates Foundation that will be distributed among the three branches.

"Obviously we would like to build as much as we can all at once instead of come back in a couple of years," said Lindberg.

The western wing will house the Columbia Room upstairs for Northwest collections and a Children's Story Cave in the downstairs section. The single story eastern Cascade Room will be divided into work centers, a smaller meeting room and classroom space for visiting students.

Knudson said when construction of all phases is completed, the overall square footage of the library will almost triple, from the existing 7,000 to about 20,000 square feet.

Under the new architectural plans, the downstairs space in the existing facility will be used to link the Story Cave to a Children's Library and the upstairs dedicated toward a reading room and computer center. By crossing through vestibule doors into the new section, library patrons will be able to access a study room and literature collections for adults of all ages. The downstairs of the new section will feature a public conference room that seats 50 people and provides a spectacular view of the Columbia River through a span of 25-foot high windows.

"The idea is to have a quiet area and an active area by holding most of our children's programs downstairs and the adults upstairs," said Knudson.

The proposed Library Lane is also expected to be a source of activity since it will be built downstairs over the existing steps and walking path that link Oak and State streets. Knudson said passersby on that route will be able to enjoy the art work of Gorge artists that will be displayed on the brick walls of the glassed-in corridor. An ADA-accessible elevator to provide handicapped patrons with easy access to the upstairs facilities will also be installed downstairs, along with public restrooms.

"With the community's help, we can build a library that will serve this community as well into the next 90 years as the current library has for the last 90 years," said Lindberg.

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