Monday, June 16, 2014

How much Worse would a Marion Parkade Library Actually Be?

The 2011 library in Vantucky
Miller Hull Architects
So how is it that even in the land that hates light rail, they still put together a new library?
The district went to Vancouver voters three times to pass a bond measure to build the new library and replace another, the 24,175-square-foot Cascade Park Community Library that reopened in 2009. The first two fell short of the 60 percent needed – by just half a percent in 2006.

But before a third vote in 2006, the Vancouver-based Killian Pacific development company donated a downtown site for the new building and an anonymous donor put up $5 million for the project. A $43 million bond measure to build the new libraries passed with 63 percent of the vote.
Folks are getting all worked up over the idea that the current Library might be repurposed for a new Police Station. "Hands off," they say.

But again, the current library is a charmless concrete bunker.  Why not consider an opportunity to upgrade? If Vancouver can do it, surely Salem can, right?

So here are some thoughts....

Markion Parkade, City of Salem
First off, let's just stipulate that the ground floor of a parking garage doesn't immediately appear as an upgrade, and is instead an uninspiring location for all the ideas that reading, education, and learning suggest.

Beyond that, though, the ground floor of the Marion Parkade has a few things in its favor as a possible location for a new library:
  • A Union Street family-friendly bikeway would offer great access, and in fact kids from Grant, Highland, and Englewood might actually be able to walk and bike to it on their own, and access from West Salem would be better. With a Church Street bikeway, access from close-in south might not be harmed much. The current library is located in the center median of what is effectively a vast highway, the Commercial/Liberty couplet. If the City coordinated the right traffic calming measures, Union Street could be transformed.
  • With the Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry on the kitty-corner, maybe this could become an educational hub in Salem.
  • Since the Library is already in a charmless concrete bunker, is the prospect of a move to a different charmless concrete bunker really so much worse? And good design can do amazing things! Maybe it would not be a charmless concrete bunker afterwards.
It seems to me we are much too quick to dismiss the possibility of transformative change with the Library. The current Library is not easy for independent kids to bike to (walking seems less problematic), and the prospect of improving transportation connections is something worth serious thought.

While it might not be a Great Irony, it is at least a little ironic that we are giving more attention to the interiors for children and teens than we give to the question whether children and teens can even reach the Library on their own. The car-dependency of the site is assumed as a given - but should not be.

That Belluschi Bank? What if it were a Library!
I'm still partial to the idea of using the Belluschi bank, building out in back and up as necessary, and then hopefully jump-starting the mixed-use development on the old City Hall site that is currently a void with surface parking.

Imagine how much more active the sidewalks and businesses on Liberty here would be with all the foot-traffic generated by a library!

It would also provide reason to upgrade Chemeketa to a full family-friendly bikeway. And this site is better served by transit than a location in any other part of the city.

Anyway, there are lots of possibilities with the Police/Library question, and the annoyance of a delay in the Children's room remodel should not distract us from the bigger potentials and brainstorming. I read the City's delay on the remodel as reasonable rather than as part of a nefarious scheme to force a particular configuration on the Police Station. Moreover, if the project totally tanked, the $300K worth of improvements would be easy to tuck into the new bond for the Library/Police project.


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for airing out this issue SBOB. Have you noticed that our newspaper of record has not had a single article that discusses this issue in depth? They are too busy reporting on accordion club meetings and strawberry festivals (the entire front page today). Shame on them.

There are two flaws in your argument here. One is that the City Council majority really has a serious interest in building us a better library. I was at the Council work session where this was discussed and all the conversation was about how we don't need libraries as much anymore and that the library could do with much less space and that we might be able to close the West Salem Branch if we located a new library closer to the end of the Center St. bridge, etc., etc. They were not talking about converting the Marion Parkade into the library, they were talking about converting the first floor only. The current library is 90,000 sq. ft. What is the first floor of the Marion Parkade? Even half that?

The second flaw in your argument is that Salem voters would ever in our lifetimes pass a $70-80 million bond measure to build a new library and a new police facility and to remodel City Hall. You are dreaming. Look, we don't need a new library. We need a new police facility and we need to do a seismic upgrade of the Library and City Hall. That could be done for about half of what you are looking at. It's the best we can hope for.

I would love see us build a better library (would I ever!). We also need 3-4 branch libraries in a town this size. But I am realistic enough to know that $40 million is about all we can hope for from Salem voters to address our most pressing needs in the near future.

Janet said...

I'm a proponent of decentralized, neighborhood-based library services so am not excited about any plan that continues to concentrate them in a single downtown location--especially when we have such limited bus service (WS branch is unwalkable for almost all WS residents, is in a high-car-traffic area, has severely limited hours, is less than a mile from the other branch, and you can't return books when it is closed--I'm not counting it).

I couldn't be more disappointed by the latest tail-wags-the-dog proposal. It doesn't appear to reflect anything but a desire to satisfy the PD's most urgent needs (and fulfilling more than a few of its dreams)--clearly not the result of any carefully conducted community needs assessment regarding library services.

I don't think it's worth the cost of remodeling the library building to meet police standards and remodeling another structure to meet library standards, when access to library services will be about the same as it is now. Put the police in the parkade--loads of parking for their fleet and specialty vehicles, close to the action downtown.

Curt said...

Salem makes Vantucky and Clackamastan seem enlightened by comparison. Put a flag on it!

I would like the library at the Marion parkade. Much more adjacent activities with Salem Center, Borderlands and Cinnebarre right there. Better connectivity with the Grant Highland neighborhood. Even though Civic Center is right near us, the library is not very accessible. Cruising down Church St., imperfect as it is, is more attractive. If the Union St. bikeway is ever built, that location will be even better.

I think repurposing the library for the new police station is something that could be done for $20mil. Maybe a new library could be done for $20mil. too. Maybe, maybe not. But it's far more credible than anything SCV has come up with.

Its not surprising at all that a $40mil. solution that utilizes existing buildings would be forcefully opposed by those that advocating for a $40 mil. solution that utilizes existing buildings.

Some people will never take yes for an answer. #salemia

Anonymous said...

Huh. At first I was skeptical. The parkade is truly an ugly building. But the adjacencies - the toy/game store, movie theater, Union St Bridge and Riverfront Park - really make a case that this would be a far better location than the current library. Yes, the idea of using the Marion Parkade deserve more thought.

Jim Scheppke said...

Curt and SBOB and Anonymous: There is no plan to turn the entire Marion Parkade into a new library. The plan is to turn the first floor into a library. Salem Center still needs the parking on the second and third floors, and the library will need the parking too (there won't be enough). This would result in a major degradation of the library service we enjoy today. No Teen Scene. No Discovery Room. No Loucks Auditorium. No Anderson Rooms. I don't know how big the first floor of Marion Parkade is, but it doesn't come close to the 90,000 square feet library we have now. Library services would be greatly diminished due to the lack of space. Are you really in favor of that?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I see lots of empty, sprawly space at the current library, rows of tables and chairs that aren't being used, folding screens used to hang art so the space doesn't seem so empty. It's nearly certain that existing library services do not need the current amount of space. Existing services with no reduction could use a smaller footprint - how much, it's true, I don't know. But I'm not at all persuaded a new library site would need to match the current square footage 1:1.

The current "concept" may be only for a single floor in the Parkade. But the Parkade is woefully underused for parking, and if necessary more of the parkade could be repurposed for the library. There was also a proposal to build up and add floors to the parkade with a mixed-use development. This could be dusted off, and maybe there's a different configuration for the library that makes better sense than the ground floor only. People have to remember, the parking garage is a shell, and there are lots of different ways the shell can be configured by a good design team. Facades can also be altered.

It is just fear-mongering to say "No Teen Scene. No Discovery Room. No Loucks Auditorium. No Anderson Rooms." If the Parkade site makes sense, it's the role of Library advocates to insist that these features are retained, not to assume from the start that they will be casualties. The Chemeketa building also probably duplicates the Anderson rooms, and maybe a cooperative agreement could be reached, as the CCBI's rooms seem empty a lot of the time.

A Parkade site would also hopefully be a prelude to a branch system, and then the downtown site would definitely not need to be as big.

Our current library is in a crappy, crappy site!

Forget what's inside the building for a moment. Think about how people get there who aren't going by car - on foot, on bike, on transit. The Marion Parkade location would be superior for all of them, and not significantly worse for going by car. If you arrive by car, there's nothing else to do at the Civic Center site: Most people will feel they have to get in the car again to go somewhere. The Marion Parkade site would encourage people to do a lot more things without also moving the car. As Curt points out, there are very meaningful adjacentcies that would make the area even more lively, maybe even make it into its own "district." At worst, it's far more connected to downtown proper than is the Civic Center site.

I don't know that the site is best, but it's totally worth a closer look.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

On separate, maybe even tangential matter, here's the library portfolio for Thomas Hacker (now THA Architects). At least some believe he's done the best library work in the last quarter-century around here.

How can a person not look at those pictures and think that a good designer can totally raise the level of the Library in Salem?

So much more is possible! Why must we settle for mediocrity?

Jim Scheppke said...

SBOB, I was at the City Council work session. You weren't. They were definitely talking about mediocrity. They were talking about a least cost alternative to move the library out so the police facility could move in. Why? Because the Mayor insists that the police facility be next to City Hall. Why? Because, as the Mayor stated, it's already been decided it has to be that way (By who? When? Was there a public hearing?). I can't accept that argument. There are no compelling reasons that the police facility cannot be located elsewhere. And there are many alternatives that could be considered that would not end up harming our library services, meager as they already are.

Curt said...

SCV has been about mediocrity and cheapness from the beginning. The reasons for the police to remain at the civic center have been clear from the beginning. SCV has chosen to ignore them because they are inconveinient to the outcome they want.

The footprint of the parkade is huge compared to the library. It takes up an entire city block. IIRC from the parking studies, occupancy is only 42 percent at peak times. The city doesn't have the resources to continue to subsidize private car storage for Salem Center shoppers or to preserve all this excess capacity. It makes much more sense to utilize it in a way that benefits everyone.

Curt said...

We'll Jim's comments in the SJ don't completely ignore the reasons for the civic center. But he does omit a big one; access to all areas of the city. Portland Rd. provides great access to Keizer Station but lousy access to most of Salem. A new bridge would help with that! It would also be another example; along with the Kroc Center and the SS office on McGhilcrist how planning for sprawl leads to more unnessary spending.

Anonymous said...

I think there are important and valid arguments on both sides here.

The Marion Parkade seems indeed to be a better location for all the reasons mentioned--multimodal accessibility, connection to downtown, repurposing an underused parking structure, etc. It is certainly worth considering and could be turned into a real asset.

However, it is very concerning that City Council members don't seem to value even having a library. Comments that libraries aren't important anymore or that everyone has e-readers anyway are quite alarming, as is the plan to only use the first floor. I'm not sure how much we can trust the City Council to fully commit to creating an equal or better library in a new location. With the attitudes expressed, fears that we would lose Loucks etc. are legitimate concerns.

Is there any way to compromise on the issue--to say, for example, OK, we're open to considering a new location for the library, but we insist that it retain its existing services and use more than the first level of the Parkade? Or something like that? I'm still mulling this all over, but I think both sides of this discussion have important things to say.

Curt said...

You are right. But city council has proven to be flexible and open new suggestions and compromise. SCV has not. This new concept could satisfy 95% of what they want. But if they can't get 100%, they will do whatever is in their power to blow up the rest of it. They did it with the downtown EID and they will do it again.

Anonymous said...

Different Anon here...

At least somewhat germane:

"The Beaverton City Council unanimously voted June 17 to refer a $35 million bond measure for a public safety center to the November ballot.

The bond would pay to remodel the current City Hall location into a public safety center, bringing police, emergency management and court services into one building, according to a press release. City Hall will be relocated to the Beaverton Building at the Round in August.

"This is a need, not a want. It is essential we have a consolidated public safety center," Mayor Denny Doyle said in the press release. "A 1980s office building will no longer meet our city's need.""

Jim Scheppke said...

A note to all SBOB readers: Whenever I comment on this blog I am commenting for myself and not for Salem Community Vision. I am a member of SCV, but my comments here are solely my own. I would ask everyone to respect that.

PS. I agree with Anonymous that you can't trust City Hall at the present time to do right by the library, and a new library comparable to the one we have would drive the cost of a bond measure for the police facility, library and needed seismic upgrades to City Hall out of reach.

Curt said...

Out of reach based on what??? You pushed a resolution though the NAs to explore options. Now they are exploring options and you already want to shut down the first option on the table before any money is even discussed.

You keep taking about a $40mil. solution and have yet to produce one single building in Salem that meets the project needs. Much less anything comparable to the former Quest building in Eugene.

Anonymous said...

At least on this matter, all our debate might be moot. The staff report to Council on Monday isn't very encouraging:

"According to the City's Chief Building Official, the challenges in taking an existing building, constructed earlier than the 1990's when building codes were updated to account for seismic risk, may make it cost prohibitive to reconstruct the Library facility for Police use. The cost of bringing this building to an immediate occupancy standard for the Salem Police Department is likely not economically feasible. (etc)"

Laurie Dougherty said...

I would love to see the library located downtown. It would bring people downtown, it's close to the transit center where almost every bus route goes. Using the bank building is a great idea. Every time I go by it I'm perplexed that such a great space is vacant.

People can demand that the library meet the needs of the community wherever it is. It doesn't have to be mediocre.

I also have a personal pet peeve about the current location of the library. From where I live near 20th and Mill in SESNA, to get to the library by bike I ended up jury rigging a route, either through Willamette's campus or through Salem Hospital then to the not quite connected paths through Pringle Park and then end up walking the last few blocks. For a while I rode on the sidewalk, something I rarely did before and don't like doing.

What looks like the logical way, using the bike lanes on Rt 22 (Pringle Parkway?) between 12th and Commercial feels crazy to me, and I've been a city cyclist for years. The bike lanes are narrow; the traffic lanes are narrow; traffic is fast and often heavy; and trucks swoop around curves within inches of anyone in the bike lane. When I moved here, I thought - bike lanes - great. After about the third time, when a truck nearly grazed my elbow I never did it again. Did I mention that on both sides of the street there are long seams where two types of pavement meet in the bike lanes adding a little wobble to the ride?

I was truly disappointed to find that the downtown mobility study area stopped just north of Rt. 22. Maybe they figured that since there are bike lanes there,it's all been done. But I rarely see anyone using them.

On the the other hand, taking the Promenade to Chemeketa through the Capitol parks to get downtown is a low traffic ride that I do easily, sometimes several times a week. Would love to get to the library that way.