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What is the Future of Renton Library Buildings?


Renton Library Home Page 



 This page provides a general overview of the decision making process from the Library Master Plan to Election to Library site selection.

Why is Renton building new libraries and why now?
Why move the libraries?
Why would we build two libraries and give them to KCLS?
How were the Sites Selected?
Library Site Feasibility Study
Downtown Branch
Highlands Branch
Where does funding come from for new libraries?
Would the city lose the existing library over Cedar River?
Where is Renton in the Library Siting process?
When would the new libraries be open?
Why is Renton building new libraries and why now? 
Renton Library Advisory Board 

The 2008 Library Master Plan identified deficiencies in current library facilities and suggested substantial upgrades for both library branches. Implementing some of the recommended service enhancements would be more expensive than building new libraries. The cost of construction and borrowing are at a historical low and would allow Renton to accomplish these projects at the most favorable cost possible.

Why move the libraries?

Since joining King County Library System (KCLS) in 2010, the search has been underway for Renton library sites where KCLS can deliver modernized library service in Renton and provide more for residents than the current locations can offer. It is because of the 2009 interlocal agreement that the City and KCLS entered into, that Renton recognizes that libraries need to be replaced because of their age; condition; less-than-optimal locations; and systems; that would be more costly to renovate than to replace.

Prior to making the decision to place the question of annexation to KCLS on the February 2010 ballot, the City and KCLS agreed that if annexation passed, the City would be responsible for building two new libraries. In 2004, KCLS voters passed a construction bond of $172 million, allowing significant upgrades and expansion of all system library branches. Most Renton taxpayers, except for those recently annexed into the city, have not and will not pay for 2004-authorized improvements; that bond package did not and cannot include upgrades in Renton. The property taxes now paid by Renton property owners go to fund KCLS maintenance and operations, not capital costs. The interlocal agreement between Renton and KCLS says that if annexation passed, the City and KCLS “agree to develop and construct replacement facilities for both the Main and Highlands Libraries on other properties within the City to be acquired and donated by the City;” and the City will “be responsible for and pay all of the costs of development and construction of the new Main and Highlands libraries.”

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Why would we build two libraries and give them to KCLS?

The city will own the ground under the two libraries. KCLS will be responsible for all the maintenance, operation, and upkeep of the buildings through a lease with the City, and can only use the buildings as long as they are used as public libraries. Otherwise the buildings would revert back to the City for other public purposes. Therefore the City is effectively transferring the obligations and liabilities of operating two libraries through a ground lease, not the title of the underlying properties.

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How Were Sites Selected?

Because Renton joined KCLS in 2010 and will provide the funding for replacement branches, the decision about where to locate a library rests with the City of Renton in partnership with KCLS.

Immediately upon annexation, the KCLS Board of Directors did a study called a Service Area Analysis, that analyzes the distribution of library resources in a cluster or part of the system. KCLS does not look at library sites within specific city boundaries, but focuses on the distribution of library services across the regional system. Based on the Service Area Analysis, KCLS concluded the following about the optimal facilities to provide library service in Renton.

Highlands library should be:

  • 15,000 square feet (128% larger than existing library)
  • Primarily auto oriented
  • Oriented to needs of area families, schools, and students

Downtown library should be:

  • Up to 20,000 square feet
  • Oriented to public transit
  • Aligned with City-wide Business Plan & economic development goals of the City
  • Providing improved information resources, such as more spaces for computers, meeting rooms and programs

Taking into account the system-wide changes that would be made in Renton-area libraries with a combination of the 2004 KCLS Bond Improvements and replacement libraries, City of Renton residents can expect the following allocation of library space in the Greater Renton area:  

   Library       Size
(square feet)
  Downtown (replacement)      15,000
  Highlands (replacement)      15,000
  Fairwood (with expansion)      20,000
  Newcastle (new)      10,000
  Skyway (replacement)        8,000
  East Kent (new)        6,000
  TOTAL       74,000


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Library Site Feasibility Study (pdf)

In June 2010, the City commissioned a Site Feasibility Study with Mithun Architects to review alternative locations for library branches, and to conduct an architectural and engineering review of the Downtown and Highlands sites. One consideration was KCLS’ Site Selection Policy. The policy gives a way to determine the most suitable site for a library, including factors such as:

  • Site capacity
  • Visibility
  • Access
  • Site infrastructure
  • Centrality
  • Cost/value
  • Availability
  • City preference/goals
  • Catalyst for development
  • Community preference/goals
  • Potential partnerships; and
  • Potential for use of sustainable strategies

Renton and KCLS used this criteria in the Renton Libraries Site Feasibility Study and found that current Renton branches do not meet the criteria as well as other potential sites would.

Downtown Branch

DowntownPhoto1A total of six potential sites were evaluated by Mithun Architects for the Downtown library location, all located within the downtown core. Main goals for the site included the ability to accommodate a minimum 15,000 square foot library facility, with future expansion potential; a transit and pedestrian focus; and aligned with the City’s goals to support downtown revitalization. The sites were evaluated, taking into account zoning codes, site size, land costs and availability, location, ability to further City planning goals, ability to meet KCLS site selection policies, and overall project development costs.   

The report includes “rough order of magnitude” cost estimates to construct buildings on each of the sites. These preliminary estimates were based on unit costs using current construction industry data.

Mithun Architects used these criteria to evaluate each of the six downtown sites and rank them based on their scores. As the table below shows, the Big 5 site ranked highest, and it ranked 3rd in both its estimated cost to build and estimated cost of land (as the most affordable property not already owned by the City).

 Downtown Sites

Click to open pdfThe Downtown Renton Library recommended site is located at 508 S. Third Street, the former site of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store, in Downtown Renton across the street from the Piazza and near the Renton Transit Center. Big 5 relocated to a larger store in the Renton Village Shopping Center on Grady Way in 2010. Renton has acquired the S. Third Street property and will tear down the existing Big 5 store before construction of the new 15,000-square-foot library begins. Through a competitive proposal process, an architectural search was conducted jointly by Renton and KCLS in May 2011, and the City and KCLS have jointly, preliminarily selected Miller Hull Architects as the designer of the new downtown library.

Why Downtown?

Since the development of the Library Master Plan in 2007, the City has known about the need for upgrades to the Downtown library branch if it were to remain a library. Although it is a beloved icon for Renton, the current building is not suitable to continue as a library branch. The Downtown Library branch was built in 1968. At 43 years old, the building is in need of extensive seismic, electrical, plumbing, and heating/cooling system upgrades in order to function as a modern library and bring the building current with existing codes. Estimates show that these improvements would be more expensive than building an entirely new library. The building has multiple structural and operating deficiencies that would require costly construction and/or remodeling at that site, and any remodeling would also require a temporary relocation during construction and add additional cost. This option would leave library patrons with no, or extremely limited, library service for a minimum of six months for a minor remodel, and likely two years for a more significant project. Even once improved, librarians have expressed concerns about security and the lack of visibility to all portions of the facility. Additionally, people who are not familiar with Renton have stated that the existing library site is difficult to find.

Why would Renton reduce the size of the Downtown branch?

KCLS has a central administration building in Issaquah and a centralized materials handling facility in Preston. The current Downtown Renton library is 22,000 square feet, and about 4,000 square feet is administrative and storage space that is no longer necessary, because the building no longer serves as the headquarters for the Renton library system. This means that there is approximately 18,000 square feet of functional space available to the public in the existing Downtown library.

For the reasons mentioned above, KCLS has stated that the existing Downtown library is not expected to significantly increase services to Renton library patrons. In the first year since KCLS began providing services there has been a decrease in Downtown library circulation, in comparison to the 42% increase that has occurred at the Highlands branch since annexation. KCLS site selection criteria supports the idea that a new library, in a more central and easily accessible location, would provide enhanced library services and circulation of materials to Renton patrons even in a physically smaller structure. This is the case in Fairwood and Issaquah where these smaller (12,000 and 15,000-square-foot) libraries circulated 62% and 78%, respectively, more materials in 2010 than the Downtown Renton branch, which is 7,000 square feet larger in size. Finally, KCLS has developed a new approach to providing library services through its Future Service Strategy, which involves having excellent libraries, and at the same time expanding online services and outreach to varied populations.

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What are parking opportunities at the proposed Downtown site?

A new library on the Big 5 site will have 40 free parking stalls designated for library patrons on the north side of the building, some established for short-term book drop off and handicapped parking. There are also 137 parking stalls on the street within one block of the Big 5 site. These offer free two-hour parking. The City Center Parking Garage is located across the street and contains 575 parking stalls. Parking in the garage is free for the first two hours and $2 for each additional two-hour period.

Highlands Branch

Click to open pdfFor the Renton Highlands branch, a total of four potential sites were evaluated. Goals included the ability to accommodate a 15,000 square foot library facility with patron parking on or adjacent to the site with expansion potential; supportive of Sunset Area revitalization goals; and a location east and south of the existing site, which KCLS indicated was based on current and projected population estimates for the area.

The recommended site for the Highlands is on Sunset Avenue on the corner of Sunset and Harrington Avenue NE, with land acquisition coordinated with the Renton Housing Authority in concert with the Sunset Area revitalization. It is possible the site could accommodate a mixed-use facility with other commercial space adjacent to and residential housing constructed above the library.

Through a competitive proposal process, an architectural search was conducted jointly by Renton and KCLS in May, 2011, and the City and KCLS have jointly, preliminarily selected THA Architecture as the designer of the Highlands library.

Where does funding come from for new libraries?

Would taxes be raised to pay for the two libraries?

Prior to annexation to KCLS, when Renton’s library system was independent, the City of Renton funded libraries with approximately $2 million each year from its General Fund. Since annexation, Renton has been setting aside that amount to fund debt service on bonds for new libraries. In effect, the City is dedicating the funds previously used to operate our own libraries to pay for rebuilding the two libraries, so there is no additional expense to Renton or KCLS taxpayers to make that investment.

How much would the libraries cost and how would they be paid for?

The Renton City Administration has proposed to issue bonds to fund library construction. Municipal bonds are a way to finance a capital project in which investors buy government bonds that provide the funds for the project up front, and represents a debt for the government to repay over a set period of time. With the reserved General Fund dollars and by issuing 10-year bonds, Renton would have $19.8 million available to build library branches. Current planning-level budgets assume the following costs for replacement libraries:

  • Highlands (with structured parking): $10.1 million
  • Downtown (if 15,000 square feet): $8.8 million
  • Downtown (if 20,000 square feet): $11.8 million (a 20,000 square foot Downtown Library would require 1 to 2 years of additional debt service)

Would I have a chance to comment on how the new libraries look?

Renton is partnering with KCLS to build libraries since they have expertise about how a library branch should be designed and operated. Once a final decision is made about the library locations, the City, KCLS and the architect teams will hold meetings for the general public about the design of each building. Members of the public will have multiple opportunities to participate in the design of new libraries going forward. The next step is library design which includes public meetings. KCLS as the lead design agency will begin a process in a few months that will ask for residents’ input about the future design of the libraries, meeting and program space, capturing elements that are unique to Renton and its history and future. Design Teams will include KCLS and City staff, and citizens from the Renton Library Advisory Board and the Renton Municipal Arts Commission.

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Would the City lose the existing building over the Cedar River?

A primary concern has been what would happen with the current Downtown Library building. This building is a well-loved public icon that will stay in City ownership. The intent is to create a public use that celebrates its unique location. The City Council remains committed to the existing Downtown Library building, and envisions a new and exciting public purpose for it. A public process will begin soon to determine what the future use of that building can and should be. Some ideas that have already emerged include a visual arts center with artists’ studios and gallery space; an environmental education facility dedicated to the significance of salmon; an activity center for Renton’s youth; and a meeting and events facility.

Generally, the vision for the current building will seek partners and public input that aims to:

  • Work with the Mayor and Council to align outcomes with the Renton Business Plan
  • Work closely with Renton residents and the business community
  • Achieve participation from Renton’s diverse population
  • Take advantage of the uniqueness of the building and parkland setting
  • Add to the vibrancy of the community
  • Incorporate educational and historical elements
  • Recognize tourism potential

The process can entail multiple methods of gathering input:

  • Task Force or Advisory Group
  • Focus groups
  • Neighborhood Program public meetings
  • Website solicitation for ideas and comments on proposals
  • Open public meetings
  • Design charrettes with building officials, consultant engineers and architect

Renton plans to facilitate a dialogue and public engagement over the next two years to determine the future use of this community icon, and estimate potential funding needed for the extensive upgrades and changes mentioned earlier that would need to be made to that building.

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Where is Renton in the library siting process?

Now, the Renton City Council has two decisions to make before planning and construction of new libraries will begin. First is a proposed interlocal agreement to set the terms of partnership between KCLS and Renton. Second, the City Council is also considering whether to issue bonds to pay for construction of new libraries.

The table below gives a summary of where the City has been and expected next steps. 


  Date Selected Milestone

November, 2008

Renton Library Master Plan recommendations included: “make long-term service, financial commitment to independent library; invest in expanded library facilities.”

  July, 2009 Council adopts interlocal agreement with KCLS and places annexation to KCLS on February 2010 ballot
  January, 2010 Ballot title/voters pamphlet states: “Renton would provide two replacement library facilities to be paid for at a future date by City of Renton funds.”
  February, 2010 Voters approve annexation
  March, 2010 KCLS begins providing service in Renton libraries
  July to September, 2010 City staff and consultants (Mithun Architects) evaluate sites
  October, November 2010 City Council receives two Executive Session briefings on potential property acquisition
  March 21, 2011 City Council approves purchase and sale agreement for Big 5 site
  June 15, 2011 Big 5 property purchase closes

City Council considers proposed bond issuance and interlocal agreement to set the terms of the partnership between KCLS and Renton. The agreement includes:

  • The amount of the City’s financial contribution
  • How projects can be changed
  • Roles for the bidding process and construction teams
  • How the City will pay KCLS
  • Setting the stage for a 100-year renewable ground lease after final acceptance of buildings. Renton will lease the sites to KCLS at no charge as long as they are used as library facilities; and KCLS will maintain buildings, landscaping and insurance for the buildings.


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When would the new libraries be open?

Renton and KCLS hope to have the Downtown branch constructed and open to the public by end of 2013 or early 2014.  Under this plan, the existing Downtown Library would remain open until the new building is constructed.  


  Date   Key Milestone
  June 2011   Site Acquisition/Bond Issuance
  June-October 2011  
  Design and Community Involvement
Two Community Open House meetings for concepts, programming, and schematic design
  4th Quarter 2011   Selection of Final Design (KCLS Board, Renton City Council)
  1st Quarter 2012   Construction Document Development
  2nd Quarter 2012   Permit Review and Approval
  3rd Quarter 2012   Public Bid/Notice to Proceed
  Through mid-2013   Construction
  4th Quarter 2013   Occupancy
  Early 2014   Open to the Public


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