On July 9, 2011, the King County Library System (KCLS) opens the new Kenmore Library at 6531 NE 181st Street. The 10,000-square-foot sustainably designed building is a welcome addition to the community. The fast-growing city at the north end of Lake Washington has long outgrown the 2,112-square-foot library that served it since 1976.
It Began in a Barn
Kenmore's first library opened in 1958, in a converted barn located near Kenmore Elementary School. In 1976, the library relocated into a double-wide trailer near the city's business district, which it quickly outgrew. After the Kenmore Library annexed to the King County Library System in 1999, city and KCLS officials began planning to build a modern, state-of-the-art library for Kenmore residents.
In 2004 King County voters approved a $172 million capital bond for the construction, expansion, or renovation of all KCLS libraries. A few months later, KCLS hired real-estate consultants to begin looking for a suitable site for a new Kenmore Library. Several spots were considered, but the chosen location was a parcel on 181st Street, which was being leased to multiple tenants, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
In February 2007, KCLS selected Weinstein AU Architects to design the Kenmore Library, and finalized the purchase of the site a few weeks later. But then the project hit a snag. In initial talks with USPS, which held a long-term lease for the post-office space, KCLS officials understood that the post office would be moving in two years. However, securing the site took considerably longer than that.
Change of Address
While public meetings were being held with Kenmore residents to show plans for the new library, behind the scenes a laborious process began with postal officials. Initially, KCLS offered financial help to USPS and assistance in finding a new location for the post office, which USPS considered. But after more than a year, no decision had been reached. At one point USPS threatened to close the post office, which did not sit well with city officials.
In late 2008, U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (b. 1951) sent a letter to USPS, requesting that the postal service speed up the move. City and congressional officials continued to apply pressure, and in June 2008, Kenmore's city manager and mayor traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with USPS officials. Meanwhile, Weinstein AU had submitted a final proposal for the new library building design, and contractors began preparing construction bids.
In April 2009 USPS agreed to relocate. The site chosen for the new Post Office was the old city hall, located right across the street. Unfortunately, the new city hall had not yet been completed, which only added further delays. To speed up the process, the city offices moved into a temporary location, and both the city and KCLS helped the post office move to its new home. Library construction finally began with a groundbreaking ceremony on June 8, 2010.
Built by Sierra Construction, the new Kenmore Library opened on July 9, 2011, some six years after planning began. By this time, Kenmore residents were eager to see their new library. The crowds who attended the grand opening were happy with the long-awaited results.
The new 10,000-square-foot library was almost five times the size of the double-wide it replaced and, unlike its predecessor, the new building was filled with plenty of natural lighting. The library had a large reading room, separate children's and teen areas, a meeting room, and two study rooms. More than 16,000 new books, magazines, movies, and CDs were added to the collection. The number of staff was increased from six to 16, all of whom pitched in to shelve the new materials in less than two days.
King County Councilmember (and later Washington State Attorney General) Bob Ferguson (b. 1965) spoke at the Kenmore Library's grand opening on July 9, 2011. He quoted Thomas Jefferson's remark, "I cannot live without books," and said "I think you can extend that from an individual to an entire community. The learning that's here in the library -- the past, the present, the future -- it's all here for all of us" ("Ready to Start Reading ...").