KCLS details plans for Newcastle Library
March 4, 2010
By Tim Pfarr
King County Library System officials released detailed plans for the Newcastle Library last month. The library will be 11,000 square feet with 44 parking stalls, and most of the stalls will be in an underground parking garage beneath the library.
The inside of the library will contain several distinguishing features, including a grand entryway and a meeting room with a retractable wall that can be opened to allow for more reading space for patrons. The Snoqualmie and Sammamish libraries both feature similar meeting rooms with retractable walls.
The new library will also include electronic return machines, which have become commonplace at KCLS libraries. On the outside, the library design calls for a green roof, which will help insulate the building and absorb water, reducing runoff.
The library system will still co-develop the site — at the southeast corner of the intersection of Newcastle Way and 129th Avenue Southeast — with developer Lorig Associates, which plans to build apartment units.
The library and the apartment units will be in two separate buildings separated by a parking lot, with the library on the north end of the site, abutting the intersection of Newcastle Way and 129th Avenue Southeast, and the apartments on the south end.
The site was originally designed to include a single, multiuse building containing both the library and Lorig’s apartments, but Lorig had difficulty financing its portion of the project. This prompted KCLS officials to split the project into two phases, so it could construct the library independently without waiting for Lorig to get financing for its portion.
The original agreement between the library system and Lorig called for Lorig to manage the entire project, but the change in plans shifted responsibility to the respective parties for their individual portions.
KCLS officials said they hope to apply for their building permits this spring, receive the permits this summer and break ground this fall, ideally by September. They said construction would likely take a year, yielding a fall 2011 opening.
Now, library system officials are working on a new agreement with Lorig to establish a deadline by when Lorig must have funding for its portion of the project. KCLS officials would not comment on the new timeline with negotiations ongoing. However, if Lorig ultimately fails to find financing by the next deadline and KCLS does not grant the developer an extension, the agreement would dissolve.
KCLS officials said if the agreement dissolves, they would likely search for another partner to use the remaining space on their land.
In September 2004, King County residents voted in favor of a $172 million bond measure to expand and maintain the county library system. This involved providing improvements to all libraries in the county, as well as constructing a library in Newcastle.
Construction on the library was slated to begin in 2006.
In spring 2005, library system officials began discussing a possible joint development with the city at the current City Hall site. However, that fall, KCLS secured its current location, next to Chase Bank.
Ptacek said city officials, including then-City Manager John Starbard and then-Mayor Jean Garber, encouraged KCLS to construct a mixed-use building that included the library.
“It was made abundantly clear to the library system that it should be mixed use,” Ptacek said.
Ptacek said Starbard recommended that the library system work with Lorig on a mixed-use project. KCLS pursued the mixed-use project and selected Lorig through its standard selection process, Ptacek said.
Also, the City Council voted to grant the housing portion of the project an eight-year property tax exemption. The exemption would become effective after construction is complete.
Ptacek said it wasn’t just encouragement from city officials that led the library system to construct a mixed-use building. He said constructing libraries in conjunction with other facilities has become a growing trend for the system, and that the Newcastle Way and 129th Avenue Southeast site was about twice as expensive as KCLS officials anticipated, making a mixed-use building a better financial option.
While some city officials spoke in favor of a mixed-use project, Garber said KCLS’s decision to pursue the mixed-use project was its own.
“Nobody twisted their arm,” she said.
Mayor John Dulcich, a member of the City Council when the mixed-used project was developed, said he was against it from the start.
He said the city pressed the mixed-use project on KCLS, and he said the mixed-use project was “density for the sake of density.” He also said he worried such a mixed-use project would backfire on KCLS by halting construction.
“I feared they’d get the unintended consequence, which was nothing,” he said.
He said he very much wants to see the library built, and he said the decision to group the library with housing units was “one of the most bonehead decisions ever made.”