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Kalama library

Building contractor Dave Merklin, center, and electrician Kenny Tapani work on wiring for the new Kalama Library, set open in late May.

KALAMA — For almost a year now, the citizens of Kalama have relied on a bookmobile to get their library books.

The multi-colored bus is parked outside the former library and City Hall building on North First Street and Geranium Street. But there’s activity around here: Translucent plastic is draped over one half of the building while construction workers flit in and out of the front doors.

The building was heavily damaged during the December 2015 floods, leaving librarians scrambling to save the 15,000-book collection. Kalama’s City Council members, whose chambers were in the same building, have since held their meetings in the town’s Community Building over on Elm and North Second.

But all of that will be over soon: Construction on the new building is set to wrap up the first week in May. The next step will be furnishings. The library’s needs include tables, chairs, book shelves and computer desks.

“The reason we don’t have any furniture is because there was so much damage,” said Councilwoman Mary Putka. “It sat in water and we can’t use any of it.”

The $500,000 construction project is paid for through a combination of insurance money, federal emergency dollars, the city’s capital improvements fund and general fund reserves, according to 2017 budget documents.

City Administrator Adam Smee said former police chief Randy Gibson, before he died, also gave up funds that would have gone to the city’s new police facility so the library project could be completed first.

“In the hierarchy of needs of a city, while libraries are important, oftentimes they get moved down the scale,” Smee said.

Generally, public safety or infrastructure projects are at the top of the list. “It’s been a long time coming for the library to be recognized and get the capital improvement that it’s getting now.”

Improvements include new, ADA-compliant bathrooms, an increase of about 800 square feet of public space and raised ceilings. New lighting fixtures will adjust to outside light levels that dim and brighten along with the natural light entering the building. The space will also have a community room and a spacious employee workroom as well.

While insurance and city funds covered construction, there won’t be any money left to purchase furnishings. Local nonprofit Envision Kalama has already pledged $30,000 for shelving units. The group will also launch a fundraiser in the coming weeks for chairs, tables, desks and necessary furnishings.

Putka, a member of Envision Kalama, walked through the building Wednesday afternoon and described her vision for the new community space.

“This will be a kid’s area for books,” Putka said, pointing to the Northeast corner of the main library room. “And these are all books on the wall, and this is all open with low shelving in the middle. There will be some lounge chairs here, where people can sit and read.”

For building and interior design, the city contracted with architects and designers from Mackenzie, a Pacific Northwest-based design firm.

“The new design and concept of the library is (around) technology, digital access. It becomes more of a public meeting place or community asset,” said Smee. “You want open space, you want people to feel welcome to gather there, it’s not just an archive for books.”

Taller stacks will line the outside walls of the library, while shorter, 42 inch stacks will fill the middle sections, making the library feel more open and welcoming, Putka said. Lower middle stacks will also help librarians monitor the entire space.

The library will then pare down its physical book collection while expanding digital access through the state’s digital library catalog. Smee said that the library will strike a balance between increasing demand for digital access while also maintaining materials for those who prefer bound volumes.

The library’s construction also symbolizes a shift in how Kalama gets work done.

“Kalama as a small community. Traditionally things have been a bit of a bootstrap affair,” Smee said. “You have a lot of community involvement and volunteer labor.”

Twenty years ago, the city’s Community Building was re-roofed mainly though volunteer work. And last year, Smee, a former contractor, did much of the minor renovation work in the current City Hall, including moving walls, replacing doors and repainting.

“Our population has grown by at least a third since 2000,” Smee said. As you do that you sort of move away from a lot of the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality. ... The library space was really the opportunity to take the next step and say, ‘Let’s see if we can really do it the way that we should do it.’”

Outside designers, architects and contractors have been used throughout the whole project. And while the price tag is “pretty substantial,” Smee said, it’s important to do it right.

“It’s been 20 years since anything has happened to that building,” Smee said. “And it will probably be another 20 years before anything else gets done to that building.”

“The new design and concept of the library is (around) technology, digital access. It becomes more of a public meeting place or community asset.” Adam Smee Kalama City Administrator

Contact Daily News reporter Madelyn Reese at 360-577-2523


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