On March 26, 2016, the King County Library System (KCLS) opens the Renton Highlands Library in the heart of Renton's new Sunset Area redevelopment project. The 15,000-square-foot library at 2801 NE 10th Street is more than double the size of its predecessor, which was located a few blocks to the north. It is one of the first structures completed in the city's Sunset Area Community Revitalization Program.
Planning for a New Library
The first Renton Highlands Library was opened in 1944 by the King County Library System to provide library service to workers employed at the Boeing Company and Pacific Car and Foundry (PACCAR) plants in Renton during World War II. The Renton Highlands Library became a part of the city's Renton Public Library system in 1947. Following the war, both Boeing and PACCAR adapted and continued to be strong, other industries moved to the area, and most workers stayed rather than moving on. As growth pushed south from Seattle, both Renton's main library and the Renton Highlands Library found it challenging to keep pace with the needs of a growing population.
In 1973, seven years after the Renton Public Library moved into a new building spanning the Cedar River, the city opened a new 6,592-square-foot Renton Highlands Library at 2902 NE 12th Street. That structure, renovated in 1997, served the Highlands neighborhood for more than four decades.
In 2010, after several years of discussion, city voters approved annexing both the Renton Highlands Library and the Renton Library to the King County Library System. KCLS immediately implemented short-term changes at the Renton Highlands Library, including refurbishing and redecorating, providing a larger collection, and upgrading to new technology that linked all KCLS libraries. More computers were added, meeting-room space expanded, and service hours extended. But bigger changes were needed. While Renton's first library had been located downtown, the bulk of the city's population had long ago shifted east to the Renton Highlands, a trend that continued into the new century.
As of 2010 the Renton Highlands Library had the largest circulation of the four libraries serving the Renton area, which also included the Skyway and Fairwood libraries. It was clear that the Renton Highlands Library was in the greatest need of expansion. As one KCLS official noted later, that library "was so popular that 'it felt like it was overcrowded'" (Abraham, "New Highlands Library ...").
In June 2011 the Renton City Council approved the sale of construction bonds to build a new Renton Highlands Library, allowing KCLS to begin planning the work. The new library was to be located a few blocks south of the existing location, within a major community revitalization project then in the planning stages. The Sunset Area Community Revitalization Program would replace Sunset Terrace, a deteriorating wartime public-housing development, with a mix of affordable housing, small businesses, and a park. As city plans developed, the Renton Highlands Library became an important part of the revitalization project.
Reflecting the City's Past
The firm THA Architecture (later renamed Hacker Architects) was chosen to design the new library. The architects drew inspiration from the city's long history with Boeing and the aircraft industry. They explained:
"The new library is designed to be a highly visible and accessible beacon for the community. Influenced by the history of Renton, the design is inspired by flight -- with an airplane hangar typology and the feeling of lightness and airiness in the interior." (Hacker Architects website).
In accordance with KCLS guidelines for sustainable construction, the builders made significant use of local and recycled materials. Ample bicycle parking was added to encourage users to leave their cars at home. In contrast to the prior library building, the new structure featured many windows and skylights, with sunshades to minimize heat on hot days. There were also few columns, which made the space more flexible for changing uses and also made the public space more visible to staff. The building was 15,000 square feet in area, allowing for the collection to grow. The number of computers was doubled to 24, more community meeting space was available, and much larger areas were created for teens and for children.
The Renton Highlands Library was originally scheduled to open in October 2015, but a major attack of vandalism -- multiple windows in the new building were shattered in August 2015 -- pushed the scheduled opening to February 2016. The fact that the library was part of the larger Sunset Area revitalization project added an extra layer of complexity, with project construction delays moving the library's opening day into March.
The Renton Highlands Library opened to the public at 10 a.m. on March 26, 2016. No opening ceremony was held at the time because work continued on an apartment complex next to the library and on the city park behind it. Although this made the library somewhat difficult to access at first, patrons and staff were both happy to begin using the new, larger, and more modern facility. As KCLS Director of Facilities Management Greg Smith told a reporter just before the opening, despite the ongoing construction and access issues, "the building is beautiful and ready to serve the public" (Abraham, "New Highlands Library ...").