Library eyes bigger facility

The Port Orchard branch of the Kitsap County Library System is suffering growing pains — cramps, to be precise.

Although the employees there have gotten very good at maximizing their 8,900 square-foot space in the old post office on the Port Orchard waterfront, it appears the library will soon need more room than it currently has access to.

“(The library’s board of trustees) are just realizing the space is getting crunchy here,” said head librarian Linda Thompson. “We’ve made all the adjustments we can make.”

The library is growing quickly — faster than any other branch library in Kitsap County, in fact. Between 2001 and 2002, circulation jumped 12.8 percent. The number had been steadily climbing for years, from 4 percent to eight percent and so on. And, with library patrons checking out nearly 300,000 books a year, the growth seems likely to continue.

“The regional library system is extremely popular with citizens, particularly citizens in South Kitsap,” said city engineer Larry Curles.

Curles sat down with library officials last week to discuss the possibility of acquiring new space for the facility. The need is by no means immediate —Thompson said the library is looking ahead 10 years or more with this proposal. However, because the expansion will require city help, Curles said it’s smart to start discussions now.

To put the matter in context, he pointed out the elapsed time between approval and completion for two recent major city projects — City Hall and the Blackjack Creek overpass. Curles said it took the city nine years to build city hall; the bridge over Blackjack’s canyon took 20.

“Public works are very slow,” he said.

The library is making do so far. Thompson said they recently moved the children’s room and combined the meeting room ad periodicals area to help conserve space. However, she said they’ve almost reached the limit of how many stacks — bookcases — they can fit in the building without sacrificing appearance.

“We don’t want it to look junky,” she said.

For now, however, it appears the library’s expansion plans will have to remain on the back burner. Curles said the indoor firing range for the police department is currently the city’s number-one priority and the library hasn’t even appeared on the public works radar screen yet.

Because the current library site is built on fill — lots of fill, Thompson said — it’s unlikely any further on-site expansion will be possible. The library will probably need a new building, although no one seems sure how much extra space will be needed.

Thompson said the library officials would like to stay downtown if possible, but no possible future locations have yet been identified.

“We haven’t looked,” Curles said.

As exciting the idea of a new building is, Thompson said there’s a lot of aspects to the current site many people will miss. For starters, the library is often a first stop for boaters moored at the nearby Port Orchard Marina. Boaters come in to check their e-mail on library computers and Thompson said the facility hands out paperbacks to interested boaters via an agreement with the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce.

But even more, Thompson said, there is a special charm to being a part of the “heartbeat of the community.” The waterfront ambience doesn’t hurt, either.

“We have one of the best views in the city,” she said. “I love where we are.”

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