Mercer Island group tries to break away from King County Library System

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

Loading
MERCER ISLAND, Wash. —

A group of concerned citizens on Mercer Island has filed a petition to have voters determine whether to create a city library.

The Mercer Island Library is currently part of the King County Library System. But after controversy over a county remodeling project at the site, almost 200 people signed the petition to separate from the group of 48 libraries across the county.

Julie Acteson, the interim director of the King County Library System, told KIRO 7 the building was in need of renovations, including HVAC and electrical work. The structure was designed and built in the 1990s by Mercer Island residents. 

But the design for the remodel evoked so much opposition in the neighborhood, Acteson said KCLS met with a city library committee for four months in early 2014 with the aim of making changes that would suit the desires of the community.

Acteson said KCLS changed most of its design plans to their liking, including keeping the existing skylight, buying a different furniture package, keeping the children’s space intact, and keeping the meeting room in its place.

However, a drive-up book depository on the outside of the building will be removed.

The project, to be started later this year, will cost approximately $3.4 million, according to Acteson. That number is much higher than the original cost estimate of more than $700,000, in part because of continuing increases in construction costs.

Acteson said they have submitted the design to the city of Mercer Island for review.

A group calling themselves the Concerned Citizens Committee now wants to separate from KCLS and run the library at the city level.

“The citizens designed this building, they love this building, they think it has a lot to offer, just the way it is,” said Gary Robinson, who is part of the group.

Robinson said KCLS has not listened to the will of the people.

“Let's just stay we're being violated. And we're being violated aggressively,” he said. “We’re saying no, we don't like the way your library - they look like airports.”

Mercer Island Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz said the goal is still to work with KCLS in coming to an agreement on the changes.

Grausz told KIRO 7 there are legal clarifications required from the Washington Attorney General regarding the citizen petition, before any measure can be put on a ballot.

The wording in the petition refers to creating a city library and relies on a state code requiring 100 signatures. Almost 200 people signed.

But Grausz said he interprets that code as applying to a community that does not yet have a library, when Mercer Island already has one.

Grausz also said there may be multiple votes required: “One, do you leave KCLS? That requires a vote. Two, do you set up your own library? And three, do you authorize the taxes that you need to pay for that library?”

Grausz said the city does not have the capability to run its own library.

Robinson disagrees.

“Well they are in the library business, and they should be,” he said.