On April 29, 2017, the King County Library System (KCLS) opens the new $9.6 million Tukwila Library at the corner of Tukwila International Boulevard and S 144th Street in the city of Tukwila just south of Seattle. The 10,000-square-foot structure is nearly twice as big as the nearby Foster Library, which it replaces, and is the first building completed in a new six-acre development called Tukwila Village. The library and its ribbon-cutting ceremony are vivid reflections of the community's diversity.
Planning for a New Library
The new Tukwila Library, more than a decade in the making, actually replaced two previous libraries, both of which had issues that were remedied with the new facility. The previous Tukwila Library was located in the 1920 Tukwila School building, located east of Interstate 5 and remote from fast-growing areas of the city, and as a consequence had low circulation. The old building had served as Tukwila City Hall from the 1940s until 1978, shortly before the library opened there.
The larger and newer Foster Library, built in 1996 next to Foster High School, was more centrally located in the Foster neighborhood west of Interstate 5. However, it was soon hard-pressed to accommodate the many students and adults using it. As a result, the King County Library System developed plans to close the Tukwila Library and to build a bigger library to replace the Foster Library, using funds from a $172 million capital bond measure passed by county voters in 2004.
The old Tukwila Library closed in 2010 (the historic school building later became the Tukwila Heritage Center). That November KCLS hired the architectural firm of Perkins + Will to begin designing the new Tukwila Library. Design principal Ryan Bussard recalled visiting the Foster Library shortly after his firm landed the contract. He and his colleagues wanted to see how that library was being used:
"We thought we went on a quiet Wednesday afternoon with not many people there, but it was flooded with parents -- parents reading to children on the floor of the library, going to meetings, using the computers ... Little did we know, we timed it perfectly for that Wednesday afternoon, that the school let out exactly at that time, and the students overwhelmed the space. Two things came to mind. The first was maybe we need to grow the library a little bit, and then as we watched (children) kick off their parents from the computers, maybe add a few more computers" (Sanders, "Community Celebrates ...").
The original plan called for the new library to be 8,000 square feet, a size Bussard doubted would be big enough. But making the building bigger would make it too costly. The KCLS Foundation took care of that, promising to raise an additional $1 million for a larger building and meeting that goal with the help of more than 300 donors. The extra money allowed KCLS to expand the planned size to 10,000 square feet, nearly twice as big as the Foster Library.
A Prime Location
The location for the new library was finalized in June 2012 when the Tukwila City Council agreed to sell KCLS a piece of the land within Tukwila Village, a planned mixed-use development envisioned as a new neighborhood center. The library's parcel, which cost $500,000, was at the corner of Tukwila International Highway and S 144th Street, one block west of the Foster Library. KCLS director Bill Ptacek (b. 1951) said:
"The great thing is the location on a prominent corner ... We think we'll attract from a wider area than the current library and we already could use more space. The current library is not large enough for the demand. We need more space for people" (Hunter).
The library was seen as an anchor for the overall Tukwila Village project, which included plans for apartments, a neighborhood police resource center, stores, and restaurants. The library entrance would face a landscaped outdoor plaza, across from a community center with public meeting space and a café. Together the two buildings would make up the heart of Tukwila Village, which city leaders hoped would revitalize the neighborhood and spur more development in the area.
Groundbreaking for Tukwila Village took place on August 1, 2014. KCLS completed its purchase of the land from the city in May 2015 and work on the library began that August with Edifice Construction as the contractor. KCLS reached an agreement to sell the Foster Library site to the Tukwila School District for $1.19 million, with the district planning to locate its technology and maintenance and operations departments there. The Foster Library closed on April 25, 2017, and staff began transporting books and other materials across the parking lot to the new building.
Celebrating Diversity and Accomplishment
The new Tukwila Library opened four days later on April 29, 2017, with a 9:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. As the first Tukwila Village building to be completed, it was a source of pride and curiosity. Despite chilly weather, hundreds attended the brief ceremony. Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg and other speakers extolled the value of the library project for the community.
Tukwila has been called one of the most diverse communities in King County, and that diversity was on display both in the variety of people attending the opening celebration and in the event itself, which started with break-dancing by Foster High School students and included comments in Salish by Duwamish tribal councilmember Ken Workman and performances by a Bollywood dance troupe. The local community was also reflected in a major sculpture installed outside the building -- artist John Fleming's "Multiplicity," a loose cluster of 26 ski-shaped steel blades rising 26 feet out of the ground. The inward-facing sides of the blades revealed a colorful array of shapes and symbols spray-painted by community members during a two-day workshop.
At the end of the ceremony, children helped cut the ribbon and the crowd surged through the library entrance. Regional library manager Angelina Benedetti estimated that within minutes a thousand people were in the building. With a natural wood ceiling that reached 22 feet at its highest point and walls that were mostly glass, the space seemed larger than its 10,000 square feet. Large white spheres served as shades for the overhead lights. Small children quickly found an oversized padded window seat that appeared likely to become a favorite reading spot.
In addition to the size of its building, the Tukwila Library was larger than Foster in several key ways. It had 26 public-access computers, compared to the 12 of its predecessor, and nearly 7,500 items had been added to Foster's transplanted collection, for a total of 36,586 items. Benedetti said the Tukwila Library also had four times the seating, adding "We want this to be the community's living room" (Drosendahl interview).
The new library memorialized several people important to its creation. The public meeting room was named for John B. and Louise M. Strander, whose family members were among the donors who made possible the increase in the building's size from the original plans. And outside, near the entrance, a red oak tree was dedicated in memory of Sharon Kidd (1943-2015), longtime manager of the Foster Library. Marie Parrish of the Tukwila Library Advisory Board said during the opening ceremony, "Sharon was insistent that our community needed this space. Her tenacity kept this vision alive and visible and conversations with KCLS and the city inspired us to keep fighting with her" (Sanders, "Community Celebrates ...").