On December 8, 2012, the community of Newcastle, tucked between Bellevue and Renton just east of Lake Washington, celebrates the opening of a new library with more than 1,000 people in attendance. The 11,000-square-foot building, designed by Mithun Architects, incorporates green technology for energy efficiency and environmentally friendly construction and holds a collection of more than 40,000 items. The Newcastle Library is funded, along with improvements at many other libraries, by a 2004 King County Library System (KCLS) bond issue. It will circulate more than 400,000 items in its first full year of operation.
A New City's First Library
The library was a much-needed boon to the Newcastle community. It was the first library for the young city, which had incorporated, as "Newport Hills," in 1993. City voters changed the name to Newcastle in 1994, the same year that they overwhelmingly approved annexation into the King County Library System for the purpose of providing library service.
When King County voters approved a $172 million library bond measure in 2004, funding for a new library in Newcastle was included, along with 12 other new library buildings (all but a planned library for the East Hill of Kent to replace existing libraries), 11 expanded libraries, 11 library renovations, and two parking-expansion projects. In the two years leading up to the groundbreaking for the Newcastle Library on October 20, 2010, various community partners met with KCLS library staff to discuss patron needs, including ADA accessibility, a variety of children's programming, and interior spaces suitable for conferences and study use by patrons. Many of those partners have continued to work with the library ever since, including Weed Warriors, Newcastle Trails, the Newcastle Historical Society, the City of Newcastle, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, and the Coal Creek YMCA.
From the start, the new library was envisioned as one that would be largely used by a commuting public. Located at 12901 Newcastle Way, the library is just west of Coal Creek Parkway SE, the main arterial running north-south through the city. One estimate placed the number of commuters traveling this route at 30,000 cars per day. Public access via multiple forms of transportation was a key feature of the library site, with a major bus stop near the main entrance, a library parking lot for visitors, and multiple bike racks along with a bicycle-repair station.
Project architect Bill LaPatra (b. 1957) described the design as one that was specifically intended to function as a community gathering place. Newcastle had few such places before the opening of the library, which made its coming to the community a "welcome addition" ("Newcastle Library 2005 Community Study," 3).
A Community Space
Several design features illustrated the library's commitment to serving as a community space. An outdoor plaza, or Gathering Porch, fronted the main entrance with illuminated seating. The main Reading Room inside allowed for natural light to enter from windows on three sides reaching from floor to ceiling. Windows details ranged from a brainwave-type pattern reflected in the Reading Room to a bay window in the Children's Area that glowed with the western setting sun.
The central Reading Room had a Teen Area with access to computers, books, movies, magazines, and music collections. A conference room offered visitors for group meetings and projects. Providing space for students was important since the new library served students in both the Issaquah and Renton school districts, including Newcastle Elementary School and Hazelwood Elementary School respectively.
All the new library buildings constructed since passage of the KCLS capital bond measure in September 2004 incorporated green technology for increased energy efficiency and environmentally friendly materials and systems. In the Newcastle Library design, these green elements included a geothermal-well heating and cooling system that conserved energy, radiant-heat floors distributing heat from the ground up, low-flow fixtures to conserve water, and a green sedum roof to reduce storm water runoff.
Another aesthetic touch shared by all of the new libraries was the display of contemporary artwork to help further a sense of community. In the Newcastle Library, a fused-glass installation by artist Anna Skibska (1915-1997) was suspended from the ceiling of the Reading Room. As a further way to reflect the historical identity of Newcastle, the library utilized bricks sourced from what until shortly before the library opened was still a major industry in the area -- brick making. As yet another sign of Newcastle's rapid changes, the brick-manufacturing company closed in 2011, and its former site soon became home to Newcastle Commons, a large-scale apartment complex.
A Day of Celebration
On the Newcastle Library's opening day, December 8, 2012, both Girl Scout Troop 43193 and Cub Scout Pack 497 assisted with the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which various dignitaries attended, including KCLS board trustee and Newcastle resident Jim Wigfall (b. 1961), U.S. Representative Adam Smith (b. 1965), 41st District State Representative Marcie Maxwell (b. 1955), Newcastle Mayor Richard Crispo (b. 1946), and Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett (b. 1928).
After the ribbon was cut, there were remarks by Julia Hunter (b. 1957), president of the Friends of the Newcastle Library, and KCLS director Bill Ptacek. A music performance by Parnassus Project (a group that performs with chamber music in nontraditional music venues) followed, as the public was invited to tour the new building.
Use of the Newcastle Library's collections demonstrated high demand from the start. Just in the three remaining weeks of December 2012 following the opening, 27,369 items were checked out. In the following year, a whopping 408,676 items were circulated. Programs offered by the new library encompassed the needs of a diverse population within the Newcastle community. Story Time programs were offered year round for families with children ranging from infants to preschool age. Storytelling sessions were provided in a variety of languages in addition to English, with Mandarin Chinese being one of the most popular. As of 2012, when the library opened, Asian Americans in general made up 28 percent of the Newcastle community, including residents of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese heritage.
As the population of King County continues to grow and Newcastle continues to expand as a suburb of both Bellevue to the north and Renton to the south, the Newcastle Library is increasingly vital as a center for access to literacy resources for both city residents and those from outlying areas. Its opening marked a milestone in KCLS efforts to serve the public through construction of more than a dozen new libraries in the early years of the twenty-first century.