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City and King County Library System select sites for two new Renton Libraries

March 8, 2011

For more information contact:

Alex Pietsch, Administrator, City of Renton Community & Economic Development, 425-430-6592, apietsch@rentonwa.gov
Julie Brand, Director of Community Relations, King County Library System, 425-369-3273, jbrand@kcls.org
Preeti Shridhar, City of Renton Communications Director, 425-430-6569, pshridhar@rentonwa.gov

New locations will bring state-of-the-art, easy-to-access library facilities, and promote community development

Renton, Wash.—The City of Renton and King County Library System (KCLS) today announced plans to construct two new Library branches, fulfilling the promise made during the recent annexation campaign to bring modern, more accessible facilities to Renton’s Library patrons. The two locations will further the city’s broader goals of promoting revitalization in its historic downtown core and in the Sunset Area of the Renton Highlands.

The City has entered in to a purchase and sale agreement with Big 5 Corporation, owner of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store located at 508 S. Third Street. The property became available when Big 5 opened a new, larger store in the Renton Village Shopping Center on S. Grady Way. The new library site is in the heart of downtown Renton, across the street from the Piazza and near the Renton Transit Center.

“When the Big 5 property became available, we knew it presented a tremendous opportunity to further our efforts to revitalize downtown Renton,” said Mayor Denis Law. “Since the mid-1990s, the City has been making investments in our downtown. The Piazza, the Transit Center, City Center Parking Garage, and the Renton Pavilion Events Center are all results of that investment. These projects, as well as the Renton School District’s remodel of Renton High School and the addition of IKEA Performing Arts Center, have attracted millions of dollars in new private investments and transformed the neighborhood. Building a new library on the Big 5 property will be yet another catalyst, bringing hundreds of additional Library patrons to the downtown core every day, benefitting the restaurants and shops nearby.”

The purchase remains subject to City Council approval. If the purchase is approved, the existing building will be torn down and a new Library, approximately 15,000 square feet in size, will be constructed.

“We could not be more excited about the new downtown Renton Library location,” said Bill Ptacek, KCLS director. “This new, more central Library location will provide easier access, whether patrons are coming from Renton High School just a block away, by bus through the Transit Center, or by car, due to the abundance of nearby free parking.”

The City will maintain ownership of the existing downtown Library, which is uniquely constructed over the Cedar River. The structure needs seismic upgrades and was not designed to provide modern Library services efficiently, and upgrades would have been costly. City staff is currently exploring new uses for the existing Library and will gather public input through community workshops.

“We’ll study a number of options for re-use of the existing downtown Library,” said Law. “The structure is iconic. We want to find a new use that will take advantage of its unique connection to the Cedar River and add to the vibrancy of downtown Renton.”

The City is also in discussions with the Renton Housing Authority (RHA) to acquire a portion of the Sunset Terrace properties on Sunset Boulevard NE. Currently there are 100 units of low-income housing on the property. RHA is expected to apply this spring to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to allow relocation of these housing units over time and redevelopment of the property in to a new mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood.

“Having a new Library in the heart of this redevelopment area is key to our strategy of creating a vibrant new neighborhood,” said Mark Gropper, RHA executive director.

Once constructed, the new Library will be approximately 15,000 square feet, nearly tripling the size of the existing Highlands branch.

“In the year since annexation, KCLS has been operating the Renton Libraries and we have been extremely impressed by the number of patrons utilizing the Highlands branch,” said Ptacek. “Having a new, larger Library directly on Sunset Boulevard will allow us to serve even more people, in more effective ways.”

“Renton has been working for more than 15 years to bring about revitalization in the Sunset Area of the Renton Highlands,” added Law. “We’ve done years of planning and study. This new Library will be a significant step forward.”

In February 2010, Renton voters elected to annex into KCLS. The City will fund construction of the new Libraries and maintain ownership of the underlying land. KCLS will coordinate the design, construction and will own and operate the buildings once completed. Both the City and KCLS are in the process of jointly selecting the architect and engineer teams. Representatives of the KCLS Board of Trustees, KCLS and Renton administration, Renton Library Advisory Board and Renton Municipal Arts Commission will participate in the final selection process. The community will be asked to participate in the design process and City staff will participate in the projects through construction.

“These new facilities will be significant community assets,” said Law. “We want them to function as extensions of people’s living rooms, offices, and classrooms. This is where we will gather to enjoy each other’s company, discuss issues, conduct business, and learn about the world around us.”

Detailed cost estimates will not be known until the branches are designed, but planning efforts to date estimate that land acquisition, design and construction will cost $9 to $10 million for each building. The City has set aside funding that had previously been spent operating the Renton Library System to finance the construction of the new Libraries.

The City and KCLS hope to have the downtown branch constructed and open to the public by the end of 2012 or early 2013. The Sunset branch will follow by approximately 12 months depending how quickly the Renton Housing Authority can make land available.