Library director asks to stay at Carnegie, expand building

by: FILE PHOTO - Oregon Citys library left the Carnegie Center in 1995 for more space at Danielsons Hilltop Mall but is back now and serving serving an increasing number of citizens in a cramped 7,000-square-foot space.Oregon City’s public library hopes to settle into its current location at the Carnegie Center after years of trying to find an expanded space elsewhere.

Library Director Maureen Cole announced on Friday that her staff wants the City Commission to finance a renovation of its 7,000 square feet and an expansion of 13,000 additional square feet. The project, estimated at a total $9.8 million, would require the city to take out a $6 million loan with about $559,000 annual debt service.

“It is possible to build an outstanding, state-of-the-art addition which will enhance the legacy of the Carnegie building while also retaining the integrity of the park,” Cole said. “This is a great way to bridge Oregon City’s history to its future and provide excellent library service to its citizens.”

Oregon City has already set aside starting capital for the library project that includes $1 million from Clackamas County. Lynda Orzen, president of the Friends of the Oregon City Library, plans to attend the Library Board’s meeting this week to encourage members to support Cole’s recommendation. Then the plan would face final approval by city commissioners.

“It’s a great step forward, and I’m so glad it’s finally happening after so many years of painstaking real-estate searches,” Orzen said. “And what an opportune time to get this decision made with the 100-year anniversary party for the Carnegie Center on the weekend of June 22.”

Although a new library could be fully operational by the end of 2015, Cole expects initial steps would cost less than $100,000, to be funded from library reserves and operating funds set aside for this purpose. She’d like to contract for more detailed site studies, a parking analysis, and more public participation in design concepts, potential space programming. Then she’d retain project management and architectural consultants before finalizing the funding strategy and refining capital-cost projections.

Given the century-old building’s location in a historic district and its potential listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Cole pledges that the library will work with OC Planner Christina Robertson-Gardiner and the State Historic Preservation Office “to ensure that any addition is compatible and does not adversely affect historical significance.”

Library location saga

After enduring complaints of insufficient space since the 1940s, the library left the Carnegie Center in 1995 for more space at Danielson’s Hilltop Mall where it leased 13,000 square feet for 15 years. In what had been hoped to be a temporary move, the library went back in the Carnegie Center to make way for the new Safeway at Hilltop Mall.

First, city officials wanted to relocate the library to the Eastham building in 2010, but the shuttered school couldn’t support the weight of books without being reconstructed.

After the Carnegie move, Clackamas County rejected Oregon City’s 2011 purchase offer for a library site for approximately two acres of a seven-acre parcel in a prime location on the county’s Red Soils campus, located within city limits. The city considered the site to be “an ideal location” that was approved by its Library Board.

A commercial real estate and project adviser helped review approximately 32 other sites, of which five made it to conceptual site plans or capital budget estimates, and one progressed to a draft letter of intent before negotiations ceased.

Both Cole and Orzen acknowledged that a contingent of the community will be disappointed that the library isn’t moving farther east. Results of a library-user survey in 2011 showed that about 60 percent favor moving uphill from the current “cramped” Carnegie Center site, which is considered too near downtown and other county libraries.

“Much of the Library’s Service Area is east of the site of the Carnegie Building, which is why the search included sites on the hilltop and beyond,” Cole said. “With the selection of Carnegie, it will be important to make efforts to extend services farther. This can be as simple as adding drop boxes.”

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