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South library branch expansion now on city’s radar
EVERETT - The neglected south Everett library branch is now the mayor’s top priority, but some council members say it’s already taken too long.
The Evergreen Branch is long overdue for an expansion and may finally get some attention soon.
Mayor Ray Stephanson said last week that expanding the branch is his top priority, but the money isn’t there.
“It’s been a project we’ve had in our capital projects list for years,” Stephanson said. “It will take some maneuvering to accomplish the expansion.”
Stephanson plans to present a funding plan to the City Council in the next 90 days to design the expansion, he told the library board last week. He said he is committed to expanding the library in the next five years. A feasibility study probably would be part of the design plan.
Library management knew the Evergreen Branch needed to expand since at least 2007 when library director Eileen Simmons came to work for the library system.
Councilmen Ron Gipson and Shannon Affholter say the branch has been crowded far too long for how many people use it.
The library expansion is a touchstone point for council members who say city leaders have ignored south Everett for years while making north Everett projects a priority.
The $4 million the city spent in 2009 to renovate the Key Bank building so it could lease it to Village Theater and make room for the recently opened downtown plaza are pointed examples the councilmen gave.
Affholter and Gipson voted against the project, but not out of concern for south Everett, according to meeting minutes.
“The $2 to $3 million they spent on that (children’s theater), they could have expanded the library,” Affholter said.
More Everett kids use the library than the theater, Gipson said.
Simmons doesn’t know how much bigger the branch needs to be to accommodate everyone. The feasibility study will answer that, she said.       
A majority of council members now want south Everett to get some attention. The city’s largest population growth is happening south of 41st Street.
Council President Jeff Moore has suggested hosting a series of council workshops this year and making south Everett needs the possible first topic.
Stephanson said last week he was against the Key Bank deal because of the economic timing, but he also was hesitant to push forward on expanding the library during the recession, which started in 2008.
“When we were projecting everything for the last four years it was pretty doom and gloom,” Stephanson said.
The new library could be built this decade as Everett tries to catch the economic recovery wave.
  Affholter was happy to hear Stephanson’s plan for expanding the library, as was Councilman Scott Murphy.
Affholter agrees the timing is right for the expansion.
“I’d welcome hearing more about (Stephanson’s plan),” Murphy said, adding, “It seems like there’s been a lot of investment in the north end. It strikes me we need to have more balance.”
Will there be a renaissance for south Everett? Stephanson said he isn’t sure, but the library expansion could be one small piece of it. New development in the Silver Lake area could be the other.
At the Evergreen Branch — maximum occupancy 88 — there are only 10 computers with Internet, one of which was broken last week.
The branch is less than a quarter of the size of the downtown library, but saw a 39 percent increase in checked out items the past five years. More than 400,000 items are checked out each year from that branch versus 616,000 at the main library downtown. The Evergreen Branch is 8,500 square feet, while the downtown branch is 54,000 square feet.
It doesn’t take a lot of people for the branch’s computers to fill up or for the children’s area to overflow with kids, Simmons said.
Stephanson said the time to expand is now.
“I don’t want this to be an idea we talk about in January and sit on … we’ve got to do something now,” Stephanson said.

 

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