A nearly decade-long search for a future Washougal community library site found its “best-case scenario” ending this week.
On Monday, the Fort Vancouver Regional Library (FVRL) Board of Trustees announced that a prominent Washougal couple had donated a piece of prime downtown Washougal real estate to the library building efforts.
“This is such great news for the community to finally have a library building site,” said Terri London, event coordinator for the Dinner in White on the Columbia Committee, the main fundraiser for the Friends of the Washougal Community Library. “We’re excited to see this important project move forward.”
The FVRL board told Washougal library advocates Monday, during the board’s regular meeting, that Wes Hickey, of Lone Wolf Development, and his wife, Diane Hickey, had donated a vacant, 18,000-square-foot parcel of land in the heart of downtown Washougal for the future library.
The property, located at the intersection of Main Street and Durgan Street, is close to the Washougal Post Office and the public Reflection Plaza.
“I think it’s the best site we could have gotten,” said Roy DeRousie, president of the Friends of the Washougal Library. “It’s right downtown, across from the (Reflection) plaza. This will be a centrally located site that will be an improvement to the downtown area of Washougal.”
Advocates of building a newer, much bigger Washougal library say the current library, located at 1661 “C” St., has outgrown its 2,400-square-foot space and is in need of a building four to five times that size.
“We need a library in the 12,000-square-foot range to serve all the needs,” DeRousie said Tuesday.
FVRL Executive Director Amelia Shelley said Tuesday she had been talking to Wes Hickey, of Lone Wolf Development, for a couple of years in an effort to find a solution to the question: Where will the new Washougal library go?
The property developer and library director had discussed the possibility of the new Washougal library being sited inside one of Hickey’s mixed-use projects on the downtown Main Street location, but Shelley said the concept didn’t make sense for the library or for Lone Wolf Development.
“I think he (Hickey) just wasn’t able to get both (a library and mixed-use development) out of that site,” Shelley said. “There was not enough square footage.”
In the end, Hickey opted to donate more than half of the property to the library efforts instead of trying to fit the library into a residential-retail development.
“It is great news,” Shelley said. “It is by far the best location … and we were hoping to keep the library in that downtown, civic core.”
When the news broke at the FVRL board meeting, Shelley said people in the audience were thrilled.
“This has been a long road to get here. And we are just so gratified and humbled that the Hickeys have made this donation,” she said.
Shelley said the next step in the process is to hire a conceptual architect to come up with a site plan “and show people, ‘Here’s what we can do with this space.'”
She added that the FVRL board agrees the Washougal library needs to expand. With a growing Washougal population and the recent switch at Camas library to a self-contained system that functions outside the FVRL network, the Washougal library isn’t able to keep up with the community’s needs, Shelley said.
“We will have community meetings to dream about what the space could be for us,” she said of the “next steps” in the Washougal Community Library building plans.
The FVRL board has about $1.1 million set aside for the Washougal library building fund, and the Friends group has fundraised roughly $150,000, Shelley said.
Having a dedicated site should make fundraising a bit easier, DeRousie said. “I’ve talked to several people who have asked, ‘Where’s it going to be?'” he said. “Once the formalities have been taken care of, we’re going to be doing additional fundraising … and working with the Port Vancouver Regional Library Foundation to fundraise and do some grant proposals.”
London said fundraising has become “very difficult” without a dedicated site for the future library.
“At Dinner in White, we go out and try to get sponsors, but people want to know, ‘What progress have you made?’ This (having the downtown site) will make a big difference in our efforts.”
The Friends group hosts several annual fundraisers, including the biggest money-maker for the future library: the annual Dinner in White on the Columbia.
Last year’s Dinner in White raised around $40,000, DeRousie said. And this year’s event, planned for Sept. 7, at the Port of Camas-Washougal’s Marina Park, will feature Patrick Lamb and The Hit Factory, marking the first time in its seven-year history that the fundraiser will have a live band.
“The live music, especially Patrick Lamb and his group, who are pretty phenomenal, will change the ambience,” London said. “People are thrilled about (Patrick Lamb) coming.”
The Friends group will host another fundraiser, the annual Spring Book Sale, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, at Washougal Town Center, 1700 Main St.
As a 43-year resident of Washougal, London said she has seen a tide change in the city’s downtown core over the past few years.
“We’re making progress and making Washougal a really nice community,” London said. “I’m not sure how long this (library building) process will take, but the Hickeys are amazing to be doing this for the library and for the community. Washougal has been trying to identify itself as its own unique place … and having the library downtown is a huge step. I’m excited for the future of Washougal.”
For more information about the library building efforts, visit washougallibraryfriends.org.