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'Clock ticking' on Gladstone's new library plan

Gladstone’s effort to relaunch its library project must walk a thin political tightrope on size, funding and location if it wants a hope of getting voter approval.

In November 2012, a ballot measure failed that would have combined the Oak Lodge and Gladstone libraries into a new $10 million facility.

In addition to the ballot hurdle that a May 2012 citizen initiative forced on such projects, any plan would first have to pass muster with Clackamas County commissioners and Gladstone’s elected officials. While only voters within Gladstone city limits will be able to vote on the measure, citizens in the unincorporated Jennings Lodge and Oak Lodge areas want county commissioners to pay particular attention to their voices in approving Clackamas County’s $1.5 million contribution to the proposal.

If there were a combined library for the 39,000 total citizens, Oak Lodge would bring about $736,000 in annual library-district operating income to the Gladstone library’s current $587,386 annually. County commissioners gave Gladstone until June to develop a plan or the city will lose its funding.

The advisory committee is supposed to recommend a plan, and then the Gladstone City Council would have to decide what to do. Out of the 34 people that Gladstone appointed to an advisory committee, only four are Jennings Lodge or Oak Lodge residents, fewer than representatives from the Save Gladstone group that opposed the previous library proposal.

Jennings Lodge community leader Ed Gronke is among the committee members who have viewed the developments with growing concern.

“We are being forced into a direction we don’t want to go,” he said. “If we don’t come to a conclusion that would be palatable to voters, then the ballot measure will fail again.”

Tammy Stempel, who is also chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said that Save Gladstone “has always been 100 percent behind the project for a reasonably priced renovation or library construction” but opposed the $10 million project as too expensive. Saying it was a “shame that Oak Grove residents have been left out of the process,” she is still hopeful that the city will be able to come to a popular solution.

“I thought it would be very divided, but I’m surprised that the majority don’t want a library in the original location and not spend as much money,” Stempel said.

Although the library committee has had to head back to the drawing board on price and location, Stempel is hoping that the upcoming committee meeting Monday evening, March 31, at the Gladstone Senior Center, 1050 Portland Ave., will help find a good possible solution. She thought Gladstone voters might approve a new or renovated library in both Oak Lodge and Gladstone, if Gladstone would be in charge of running both facilities.

“The next meeting is about financing, and I’m hoping that this meeting will bring it down to layman’s terms to see if it’s possible to get a new smaller library in both communities,” she said.

Les Poole, who recently moved to Gladstone after decades living in Oak Grove, estimated that only a narrow majority of fellow advisory committee members favors consolidating the two libraries.

“Most people did not know that the taxing district passing in 2008 would close the Oak Grove library, and that was the start of the problem,” Poole said. “The cat is out of the bag, and the public is suddenly aware that the community is going to lose a library. While it may work for some, it’s really not practical for people in Oak Grove to find their way down to Gladstone, unless Gladstone finds a really attractive location, and the clock is ticking now to find a good spot.”

Jim Martin of Oak Grove pointed out that unincorporated residents pay the same property tax rates into the district, and those funds would go to pay for a new library. But to him, it “seems like a foregone conclusion” that the library will be in Gladstone, since the city is leading the process.

“We’re leaning to one larger library, and given the realities, it probably will be in Gladstone city limits,” Martin said. “We do think that whatever compromise is reached needs to be of adequate size.”

The original proposal on the ballot was a 19,000-square-foot library/community center, and that is still below the revised 2013 Oregon Library Standards. The current 5,100-square-foot Gladstone library is one-half the size needed, and the Oak Lodge library has no space for administration or book processing, both of which are done at the Sunnyside library.

Some members of the Library Advisory Committee want more discussion of a 16,000-square-foot library to meet modern community expectations for a library. Given the political realities, now City Manager Pete Boyce, at the direction of his City Council, has been looking at a 13,000-square-foot library.

Gronke, Martin and Carol Mastronarde have scheduled a citizen meeting on library issues from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at the United Methodist Church, 14700 S.E. Rupert Drive, Oak Grove. Organizers will invite representatives of the Clackamas County Commission to attend.