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Councilors call for updates to Rockwood Library

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JODI WEINBERGER - Study areas are filled after school at the Rockwood Library.As Rockwood’s revival gets under way with an investment in social services and plans to attract restaurants and other businesses, there’s one building that Gresham city officials worry could get left behind: The Rockwood Library.

The needs of the library at 17917 S.E. Stark St. are great. At 6,435-square-feet, Rockwood has the third highest Chromebook (laptop computer) check outs of Multnomah County’s 19 libraries, coming in only behind Midland Library (25,000 square feet) and Central Library (125,000 square feet) in 2014.

There are other numbers that are just as telling: When compared to Gresham Library, which is more than triple in size at 20,000 square feet, Rockwood had an 87.9 percent computer utilization while Gresham’s was 72.7 percent last year.

In 2014, Rockwood also held 904 programs versus Gresham’s 765 programs.

“It’s inadequate,” said Councilor Mario Palmero of the library building. “There are tons of young kids wanting to go to the library in that area and that library just can’t hold them.”

There are other issues too.

“It’s so crowded” Palmero continued. “The lighting is terrible. They hardly have anywhere to sit. Sometimes its pretty bad. I’m trying to convince (the county) that we either need to update it or find a new location or we need a new library. This is not OK.”

The library was dedicated in 1963 and had one renovation in 1999. Last year, the library had a circulation of 302,793 and a door count of 177,161.

As other investment comes to the city — such as the Boys and Girls Club and Friends of the Children — councilors want to make sure the library continues to meet the community’s needs.

“I would like to have more of a conversation with the county and with the community so once we’ve identified the needs and we all agree on what the needs are we can move in the right direction,” said Councilor Lori Stegmann. “In my heart, I feel like yeah, we need a new library.”

Stegmann said a logical place for a new building might be the site of the former Fred Meyer on Southeast Stark Street, where the city is trying to attract business.

“The good things that (a new library) could do for Rockwood could really catapult Rockwood into the future,” Stegmann said.

Later this year, the city is hoping to fill the Rockwood Exchange — a strip mall across from the former Fred Meyer — with coffee shops and other restaurants, open early in the morning and late at night to keep traffic flowing in that section.

“People associate crime with Rockwood and that’s not the perception that we want,” Stegmann said. “We know there is a high rate of poverty and we know that people are moving out here, so yes, it would logically make sense, but there are more needs in Rockwood than there ever have been and we don’t have all the resources to keep up with all the folks moving out here.”

Sandra Casillas, a longtime resident of Rockwood, said the library has always been safe place to go, especially as demographics in the city have changed.

“As things started going away, like the Rockwood Fred Meyer, and there’s no park, the library was a safe place to go,” Casillas said. “We could go read books and check out things that we normally wouldn’t have access to at home and they did quite a bit of updating with computers so we could access the Internet.”

Casillas said the library has continued to be a place of “common ground” for the community with librarians who speak Spanish and a welcoming environment.

“The staff there is amazing,” Casillas said. “It’s a great place to be. That’s where people meet up.”

Updates to the library are wholly in the hands of the county, officials said, and with no fundraising arm for the library the money for an expansion or a new space would need to be allocated by the Multnomah County commissioners.

Ideally, Stegmann said she would like to see the library serve as more of a community space for Gresham.

“There is really a revival or renaissance in Rockwood, but I don’t know enough about Multnomah County libraries ... so I can’t come in there and say, this is your highest priority because it may or may not be,” Stegmann said. “We certainly see it has a high priority.”

She continued, “Yes, if I could wave my magic wand and have a brand new library it would be fantastic. But I always want to be respectful of the process.”

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