By the end of the day on Thursday, July 29, the informational sign boards that lined the interior of the Washougal Town Square were covered with a variety of brightly-colored Post-it notes containing a variety of handwritten comments about what local residents would like to see in Washougal’s future library.
That kind of input is just what Fort Vancouver Regional Library (FVRL) leaders hoped to receive from the three public meetings they held to solicit feedback about their plans for the new facility, which they hope can be designed and built over the course of the next several years.
“It was a great day. It went really well,” FVRL executive director Amelia Shelley said after the final meeting. “We had a nice number of people come out from all parts of the community and got a lot of great ideas.”
Four employees from Hacker Architects, the Portland-based firm that FVRL selected in May to lead the conceptual and schematic design process of the new facility, delivered a presentation, then solicited questions and input from the attendees, who enthusiastically delivered their comments and observations via the sticky notes.
“There was a great mix (of participants),” Washougal Community Library manager Rachael Ries said. “There were several city council members at the first (morning) session, and in the afternoon sessions we had some really active parents show up with their kids. We got input from all the different demographics that we were hoping to hear from.”
Attendees offered a large number of suggestions, including school library integration, an art gallery, theatrical performance and music recording rooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, booth seating and rocking chairs, a drive-through book pickup window, wood interiors, bicycle racks, solar energy implementation, a courtyard garden area, oversized windows, “maker” spaces, and a fireplace.
“I think they’re excited for a usable space for the community that feels like it belongs to the community,” Shelley said. “I’m seeing a lot of people talk about comfortable space, quiet space, meeting room space. That’s what they’re looking for — that ownership of something they can use.”
In 2014, FVRL commissioned FFA Architecture and Interiors, a Portland-based firm, to put together a “building design pre-program” report for its proposed new facilities in Washougal, Woodland and Ridgefield. The report indicated that the 12,830-square-foot Washougal facility could hold 40,360 physical items and feature an 80-person dividable meeting room, a multipurpose kitchen, two multi-person study rooms, a 100-square-foot art gallery/exhibit area, four self-check machines, a copy center, 48 table seats, and staff facilities.
Hacker architect Marissa Jordan said that even though that study “was done with an eye on the future, we’re now in 2021, and we all know that a lot of things have changed and will continue to change.”
“The overall vision that we pulled from that was to create a venue for the exchange of ideas; a place for discovery, making, doing, learning, relaxing; (a place) for personal connections and relationships; and a place to celebrate ideas and creativity, connect people and enrich lives,” Jordan said. “We want to hear from all of you what still resonates and what needs to be added to that list and thought about a little bit more.”
Hacker will design Washougal’s new library with a forward-thinking approach, according to principal project manager Laura Klinger.
“One of the big changes in libraries in the last 10 years is for architects to design places for people and not for (objects), and really tailoring the design for people to come and interact with information in new, different ways (and take advantage) of all the different programs,” Klinger said. “They want to provide spaces for those pieces. We’re really thinking of them as places for people that have information and not the reverse — active, community hubs, places that are welcoming and energetic and provide lots of different options for different ages of people. Everybody can have a (good) experience and find something that they want.”
The July 29 meetings were part of the project’s “first phase,” which also incorporates “visioning and programming” and “site analysis,” according to Klinger, who added the firm is planning to engage with focus groups to gather more feedback and conduct additional public presentations after completing the initial design.
“(We’ll conduct) site research and try to understand the greater context about the environment around the building, but also the culture and history and landscape,” architect Tyler Nishitani said. “That’s what we like to ask at these meetings — what’s the experience from your perspective? What’s the history? What are the stories that we should keep in mind as we’re planning this? What cultural events do you take pride in? How do you (express your) joy about what it means to live in this community? We’d love to have as much feedback as we can about all of that stuff. Well do as much research as we can from Portland, but nothing really replaces the insight that you bring to this process.”
In 2019, the FVRL board of trustees set aside $1.45 million in its capital reserve plan for the Washougal building. Fundraising efforts by the Friends off Washougal Library group have collected an additional $282,000.
“We’re asked all the time, ‘What’s happening with the new building? When is it going to (open)?'” Ries said. “(People) want updates. There’s always questions about it. They’re really excited.”