Camas Council OKs library contract, Children’s Learning Hive work

$479K agreement with Johnston Architects part of $1.85M library upgrade project

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The Camas Public Library is viewed from Northeast Fourth Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Despite one official’s stated “hesitation” to fund city projects not related to public safety in the wake of an unexpected revenue shortfall, the Camas City Council this week unanimously approved a $479,000 consultant contract key to updating and improving the Camas library.

The contract with Seattle-based Johnston Architects will provide architectural, design and engineering services for the city of Camas’ planned $1.85 million library update project, which will improve the library’s exterior, focus on safety and accessibility issues, and create the community supported “Children’s Learning Hive” for infants, toddlers and children.

Camas Public Library Director Connie Urquhart told Camas City Council members in October that nearly three-fourths of the $1.85 million library update project is funded by grants, donations and COVID-relief funds, including a $730,000 Washington state Department of Commerce grant that will pay for the exterior work and much of the Johnston Architects contract; $610,000 from the more than $6 million the City received from federal COVID-relief American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies, which will help pay for the Children’s Learning Hive, a project Camas residents listed as a high priority when asked how Camas should spend its federal COVID-relief funds; and two $10,000 grants also earmarked for the Children’s Learning Hive.

A little more than one-fourth of the $1.85 million library improvement project — $490,000 for new flooring, lighting and furniture — will come from the city of Camas’ general fund and is included in the library’s 2023-24 budget.

The Johnston Architects contract approved Monday includes a substantial scope of work, including transforming the current children’s library into the Children’s Learning Hive, with an early learning center in the former storytime room, a STEM lab for children in elementary school, a quiet reading area and a hallway that, according to the consultants “allows children to play while learning.”

The contract also includes assessing the library’s outdoor courtyard to see how it might be better utilized by library patrons; improving lighting on the main floor; assisting with community outreach and public input; securing new furniture and flooring for the entire library; designing accessible access to main entrances and an accessible ramp to the courtyard; supporting the City as it goes out to bid for the remainder of the library update work; and designing “a permanent solution to prevent water intrusion into the exterior stairwell to the basement level.”

In October, Senescu questioned the use of an outside consultant.

“We have a contract for $479,000. That’s a lot of money to replace flooring and put furniture in. Can’t we replace flooring and furniture without having a consulting firm to the tune of almost $500,000?” Senescu asked during the Council’s Oct. 16 meeting, adding, “I love the children’s area and know the community wants that. But, I don’t feel that we need consultants … to tell us what flooring and furniture to put in.”

Urquhart explained that the City will save money bundling the architectural, design and engineering services for the exterior work and the Children’s Learning Hive under one project management contract.

“It really does save money to use one firm to do both,” Urquhart said last month. “We don’t have someone here who has the expertise to manage this project.”

Council discusses failed sports field contract

Several Camas community members and library supporters had expressed concern about the future of the primarily grant-funded library update project after the Camas City Council’s 4-3 vote opposing a $124,000 Camas Parks and Recreation Department consultant contract that would have funded a citywide assessment of Camas’ aging sports fields, developed plans for more cost-effective sports field maintenance and for meeting a growing demand for sports fields, and set the City up to apply for more than $1 million in grant funding from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office, which is, according to Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam, offering far more grant money for sports fields in 2024 than it has in the past.

‘There are two grant opportunities in 2024, and each one is over $1 million, which is unheard of. The past amount was $350,000,” Lam told the Council during its Nov. 6 meeting, after Councilmembers Marilyn Boerke and Bonnie Carter asked about the ramifications of the Council’s failure to OK the sports field assessment contract.

Lam said the Council could choose to reconsider the sports field assessment contract, and that approving the assessment would allow the City to go out for RCO grants this winter and in the spring of 2024.

“If we don’t get the (winter) grant, we would still have a second opportunity (to secure) an RCO fields grant,” Lam said Monday. “If we don’t move forward with the planning process, we will miss out on the first opportunity to apply.”

Lam said the $120,000 contract would have been “well worth the cost.”

“We could leverage that $120,000 for maybe $1.5 million,” Lam said Monday.

Councilman says he changed his mind on library vote

Of the four Council members who voted against the sports field contract — Don Chaney, Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and Jennifer Senescu — Senescu was the most outspoken about not wanting to approve city projects not connected to public safety while the City is considering Camas Mayor Steve Hogan’s proposed 2024 budget over the next few weeks.

The mayor’s revamped 2024 budget includes lower-than-expected property and sales tax revenues and proposes halting the hiring of 22 planned staff positions, including two police officers, two police sergeants and eight firefighter-paramedics, an engineering manager, a parks and recreation project manager, a recreation specialist, a volunteer coordinator, an IT support specialist, a records specialist, a part-time library associate and three street maintenance workers.

“When I saw the (mayor’s proposed 2024 budget) didn’t include anything for police sergeants, firefighters, police officers, I couldn’t think consultation for sports fields at this time is a good use of our resources,” Senescu said during the Council’s Oct. 16 meeting, adding that she had also planned to make the same argument for a library contract expected to come before the Council next month. “I would love to see them happen at a later time. But right now it comes down to (police) sergeants or consultation on sports fields.”

Senescu said Monday that she still had the same concerns about the library contract, but voted to approve the contract nonetheless.

“I still have hesitation,” Senescu said Monday, Nov. 6, during the Council’s regular meeting. “I love that (the library improvement project) is 73 percent funded, but 27 percent is from the general fund, and we don’t have funding for police and fire right now.”

Councilman Don Chaney, who also voted against the sports field assessment contract in October, said Monday that he had changed his mind about the library contract.

“My intuition was suggesting this was a ‘want’ not a ‘need,’” Chaney said. “But that changed based on some research.”

Chaney said he has asked his own grandchildren, which include a Camas High School student and a first-grader at Dorothy Fox Elementary School, about the library and found it ranked quite high on the children’s “hierarchy of things they like as young people.”

Chaney also said he recalled past citywide surveys that showed the community’s “overwhelming support” for the Camas library.

“We have a library we love and want to keep,” Chaney said Monday, adding that he would vote to approve the library contract with Johnston Architects.

Councilman Tim Hein asked Urquhart Monday night if “all the work that’s been done” on the library over the past few years, including a roof replacement this year, and the $1.85 million upgrade project will get the Camas library “where it needs to be for the next several years.”

Urquhart said that, while the library, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, will likely have other needs in the future — including the possibility of creating a mobile library unit – “what we’re doing here will keep us where we need to be for a while.”

Councilwoman Carter said she wanted to acknowledge the many community members who had voiced their support for the Children’s Learning Hive during the City’s ARPA spending outreach in 2022.

“The citizens gave us comments on ARPA funds and what we should do with that,” Carter said Monday, adding that she also appreciated the fact that the library upgrades would be mostly funded with grant money and donations.

“I want to thank you,” Carter told Urquhart. “This is 76 percent funded through grants for a $1.8 million project. We always say it’s our job to make our dollars stretch further. We can’t snub our noses at this type of grant money being awarded to the City. It’s our obligation now to fulfill the promise we made when we wrote the grant.”

Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen said Monday that she had questioned approving the library contract given the City’s inability to fund 22 planned positions in 2024.

“I think we can all agree the library is an asset to the community,” Lewallen said Monday. “My only struggle is the budget … It is hard for me when we have full-time employees not being hired right now.”

Lewallen wondered if the City could somehow “utilize the grant funding” and hold off on the roughly one-quarter of the library update project that will come from the City’s general fund.

“I would be remiss (if I didn’t say) I have some concerns with other budget issues facing all of us,” Lewallen said.

Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn said local state legislators helped the City secure the $730,000 state Department of Commerce grant for the library update project, and that the city officials could not use the matching funds to help pay for staff positions in other departments.

“This is 100 percent a capital investment and does not, in any way, affect our operating budget, (which pays for) employees. We cannot swap these monies,” Quinn said Monday.

In the end, the Council voted unanimously in favor of the library contract.

Council members are set to discuss other capital projects and the mayor’s proposed 2024 budget cuts — and could revisit the failed sports field assessment — during the Council’s Nov. 20 and Dec. 4 meetings. For more information about Council meetings and upcoming agenda items, visit