Orcas Library’s 5,000-square-foot expansion is complete

Less than a year after the ground-breaking ceremony, the Orcas Island Library is preparing to unveil its $4 million expansion.

“The project has exceeded all my expectations. I’m so thrilled that it’s not only beautiful, but on time and on budget,” said Library Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Fiscus.

A grand opening celebration will be held on Friday, June 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be an open house, tours and a free dinner of bratwursts, hot dogs (meat and vegetarian), sauerkraut, ice cream and cake. At six p.m. there will be a brief program, ribbon-cutting and dedication.

Attendees can also enjoy a no-host beer stand, courtesy of Island Hoppin’ Brewery, with all proceeds going to the Friends of the Library.

HKP Architects in Mt. Vernon drew the plans that included vaulted, acoustically backed ceilings, fir finish work, LED lighting and open, bright spaces.

HBHansen Construction, based out of Lynden, Washington, won the contracting bid for the job. The company is very familiar with working in the islands: it recently completed site work in Moran State Park and is currently building the new Exchange building and making upgrades at the Friday Harbor High School. Their employees leave their homes on the mainland on Monday and then spend all week in the islands.

“It’s all gone well despite a wet winter,” said HBHansen owner Bernie Hansen. “ It’s been great working with Phil and the architects.”

For Heikkinen, the expansion has been the largest capital project he’s overseen.

“It’s been very educational,” he laughed.

Heikkinen credits community support, work of the board of trustees and flexible staff members for making it all happen.

The 5,000-square-foot expansion includes more room for children and young adults, quiet reading and work space, rooms for meetings, additional computers and multiple types of seating to work with one’s own computer, more book space with accessible shelving, outdoor seating and improved handicap accessibility. The original entrance and lobby will be turned into a cafe-style seating area; the bathrooms will remain and there are two additional restrooms in the new building.

Subcontractor Sound Landscaping built a retaining wall and installed plants but more outdoor work will be done by volunteers in the future. Local woodworkers Tom Meadows and Daniel Marty made the maple service desks and Shannon Belthor did the wood refinishing.

“This project completes a dream that started many years ago,” said Fiscus. “The board feels immense gratitude that islanders, working together, proved through this project that the library remains the heart of our community.”

History of the library expansion project

After feedback from the community about the need for more books, computers, meeting areas and space for kids, the Library Board of Trustees began to pursue an expansion project in 2014. The existing library was originally designed to be a 12,000-square-foot structure but funding availability had limited its size to half that. After consulting with volunteers and stakeholders, putting out surveys and reviewing current programs, the board concluded it was time to bring the library to its full potential.

The board secured the bulk of the $4.2 million project prior to the groundbreaking last July. They brought in $2 million in private donations; $1.4 million from a state grant and $100,000 from the Friends of the Library. In November 2016, Orcas Island voters overwhelmingly (63 percent) supported a levy lid lift, taking it from 30.3 cents per $1,000 valuation to 45 cents. The library levy hadn’t been increased since 1987. The levy revenue allowed the district to borrow funds to cover the $700,000 remaining to be raised (debt repayment is $128,000 annually for six years) as well as increase maintenance and operations and restore reserves.

When expansion-related debt is repaid, the increase in levy revenue will rebuild adequate operating reserves, which recent operations funding shortfalls have eroded.

The Orcas, Lopez and San Juan libraries all rank top in the state per capita for items checked out and the number of visits. In 2015, the Orcas Library’s volunteer hours came in at 5,275, which is 25x the Washington average. The San Juan Island Library is 9600 square feet and the Lopez Library is 6740 square feet.