The Astoria City Council has agreed to explore a bond measure in 2021 for the renovation of the Astoria Library, while potentially hiring someone to boost a lagging fundraising effort in the meantime.
The library, a Brutalist-style building constructed in 1967, has never been substantially remodeled and faces an estimated $860,000 in deferred maintenance. A 2013 study found the building had reached the end of its useful life.
A full renovation, nearing $7 million, would modernize the building with larger windows and spaces for meetings, reading, teens and families. It would open public access to the basement and include an expanded Flag Room for meetings, along with a training kitchen, gallery, media lab, collaboration and archival areas.
The city has set aside $750,000 in carbon sequestration credits to support the renovation, along with $900,000 in a memorial fund from former Mayor W.C. Logan, who the renovated library will be named after.
City councilors last year supported a full renovation, contingent on the library foundation’s ability to raise another $5 million.
Since 2014, the foundation has raised about $83,500 after expenses. The nonprofit recently called on the city to invest more in the renovation.
City Manager Brett Estes asked the City Council for direction on how to move forward, since the last directive was against a bond measure.
David Oser, the secretary-treasurer of the library foundation, argued in front of the City Council on Monday night that it is unfair to lean on volunteers to do the work of professional fundraisers.
City councilors again voiced support for the full renovation of the library, but not with a loan repaid from the city’s operating funds. They also hesitated to commit to another bond after voters in 2018 agreed to a $70 million bond for renovations throughout the Astoria School District and part of the $20 million bond for a new Clatsop County Jail.
“I could be supportive of a bond measure in the future,” City Councilor Jessamyn West said. “But as of right now, when you want to turn to the taxpayers and ask them to support something, I think a lot of folks want to see that you’ve done everything that you can to kind of raise funding.”
Councilors supported potentially contracting with someone to help raise money in advance of a bond, pointing to successful capital campaigns for the Liberty Theatre and Coast Community Radio. Jimmy Pearson, the library director, cautioned against comparing a city government to a nonprofit like the theater, and said the library and foundation have gone searching for grants.
“We are affluent compared to other communities within the state our size, and that makes a difference in the funding as well,” he said.
The library foundation estimates each $1 million in a bond measure would cost a property owner 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Mayor Bruce Jones estimated a bond for the renovation could cost between $4.7 million and $5.4 million, depending on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities the library foundation will hear back on this month. The grant would require the foundation to raise another $3 million within five years, not including money from the Logan fund.
Arline LaMear, who pushed for a new library as mayor and now leads the library foundation, predicted other large donors would chip in if the fundraising effort reaches the halfway point, lowering the cost of a potential bond.
City Councilor Roger Rocka backed the push for a bond measure, arguing it would be of minimal cost to the average taxpayer, while a better library and meeting space would have a big impact. Councilor Joan Herman initially preferred a scaled-back renovation amid high housing costs, but also favored hiring someone to help raise money. Councilor Tom Brownson supported a bond and additional fundraising.
Celia Davis, a resident who favors a bond, blamed the city for allowing the library building to accumulate so much deferred maintenance.
David Reid, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, said chamber members supported the school bond last year. He said similar arguments could be made for the library renovation.
Estes cautioned that the City Council has also discussed a possible bond measure to relocate the city’s public safety building out of the tsunami inundation zone. The city will come back next year with findings on a new location.
Jones suggested he, Estes and Pearson sit down with the library foundation next month to discuss an interim plan.