Multnomah County Library cuts proposed November bond by $18.5 million

Civic Affairs

A new, major flagship library in or near Gresham is still at the top of the to-do list

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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Multnomah County Library has cut its proposed November bond by $18.5 million and decided to upgrade the North Portland and Northwest Portland libraries and scrap the planned replacement of the Capitol Hill Library for now.

“We revisited that original package and are bringing you a revised proposal today,” Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke told a June 25 meeting of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

Although the original bond plan was approved by the commission in March to be sent to voters, the global pandemic, cratering economy and a renewed focus on equity prompted library executives to review the original plan.

Under the new proposal, the North Portland Library will be completely renovated and will be expanded by about 1,500 square feet from the current 8,700 square feet. That would bring it up to the agency’s target size of about 10,000 square feet for neighborhood libraries.

In addition to regular library services, the North Portland Library also houses the Black Resource Center, which opened in 1987.

The plan for the Northwest Portland Library, 2300 N.W. Thurman St., would relocate the small branch and double its size from 5,000 square feet. The Northwest Library is leased space and the library would like to relocate to a space it could own, if possible.

All the other library projects, including the proposed $125.2 million, 95,000 square foot East Multnomah County flagship, would remain the same as the original bond package. The proposed new East County library would be almost as large as the Central Library in downtown Portland.

The East County flagship will be “first out of the gate” in the eight-year construction plan, Oehlke said.

Although Gresham is the proposed site of the new flagship, a location has not yet been selected.

The bond also includes plans to renovate and expand the Midland, Belmont and St. Johns libraries.

The Holgate library will be replaced, as originally proposed.

The Albina Library, which was just moved back to its original location in what was the Title Wave book store, will be renovated and space added for administrative uses.

The library also plans a 45,000 square foot centralized materials handling and storage center to more efficiently move books and materials around the organization. There also will be technology, seismic and accessibility upgrades systemwide, as called for in the original bond.

The Capitol Hill Library will considered in future building plans, Oehlke said.

Designs for the new spaces will incorporate more flexibility, in case there are situations in the future requiring social distancing, for example, library administrators said.

The new $387 million bond will cost the average homeowner about $121 per year, based on the annual tax rate of 61 cents per $1,000 assessed home value. The average assessed home value in Multnomah County is around $198,388. The originally proposed bond was for $405.5 million

The county commissioners said they received many letters of support for the revised bond proposal. They voted unanimously to place the smaller bond before voters in November.

Chair Deborah Kafoury said some people “are even more excited, in some ways, excited, about this new package than the earlier one” and noted that “things are really different than they were even just three months ago.”

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