It was a tough defeat for Mike Wirt, the kind of disappointment that lingers well after the post-election press conference.
Since taking over as executive director of the Spokane County Library District in 1980, Wirt and his agency have experienced an impressive run of victories at the ballot, from a series of successful levy lid lifts to the passage of capital facility funding initiatives in 1983, 1988 and 1996.
|Mike Wirt, executive director of the Spokane County Library District, describes an aspect of SCLD’s 20-year master facilities plan during last week’s open house at the Spokane Valley Library. The district is gathering feedback from the community as it continues to construct the plan and look ahead to a capital facilities funding initiative. Photo by: Craig Howard
“We’ve been fairly successful,” Wirt said. “People seem to support us and realize they’re getting good value for their tax dollars. We’re not squandering their money.”
Yet in March 2008, the district found themselves on the losing side of an election for the first time in over a decade.
To begin with, a proposal to establish a Library Capital Facilities Area, defining the vicinity of future building projects, fell short by just over 100 votes. Needing 50 percent to pass, the initiative garnered 49.5 percent.
Meanwhile, a $33.4 million capital facilities bond mustered only 45.5 percent of the required 60-percent supermajority. The funding request would have provided capital for a new Spokane Valley Library, improvements to the Argonne branch in Millwood and an additional site in the Greenacres/Veradale area off Conklin Road.
Wirt later said that opposition to a proposed Spokane Valley city center in the University City area was “a major factor” in the bond defeat. In December 2007, SCLD announced a purchase agreement for 3.5 acres in U-City that would serve as the home of a new Valley library.
“We thought if there was going to be a city center, it would be the best place to have a library,” Wirt said. “At the same time, we weren’t really in a position to say if there should be a city center. I’ve heard that people voted against the library just because they were against the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan and the idea of a city center.”
Since the election disappointment, Wirt and the district have taken time to regroup and re-evaluate. While SCLD has not included another capital facilities issue on the ballot for over two years, Wirt and his colleagues have been working on the draft of a 20-year library master facilities plan, a project that has included community surveys, focus groups and, most recently, a series of open houses intended to gather feedback from residents on the state of current buildings as well as future facilities.
Wirt and other district representatives were on hand at the Spokane Valley Library last week, the first of four open houses over the next several weeks. Similar events were held at the Fairfield and North Spokane branches this week with a meeting scheduled in Cheney on May 4.
In the greater Spokane Valley area, SCLD has identified a number of facility concerns including a goal of building a new central Valley library of at least 50,000 square feet somewhere along the Sprague Avenue corridor between University and Evergreen roads.
Other recommendations include building a branch on the two-acre plot that the district purchased several years ago on Conklin Road. The 15,000-square-foot branch would serve the Veradale/Greenacres portion of the Valley whose residents currently do not have a convenient site nearby. Another 15,000-square-foot location is being proposed for the south Spokane Valley area.
Also included on the list of capital improvements are expansion projects at the Argonne and Otis Orchards branches. The upgrades include the addition of study rooms, parking and meeting space.
From inadequate HVAC systems and outdated technology at existing buildings to burgeoning areas of the county that lack library services, Wirt said the goal of the facilities plan is to map out an effective approach to capital projects over the next two decades with the most pressing priorities addressed first. The district has mentioned putting a construction bond on the ballot in 2012.