Library Capital Bond leaders highlight equity work, progress on new library spaces during board briefing

April 22, 2022

Tracey Massey, director of County Assets and Chief Information Officer, left and Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries.

The Multnomah County Library Capital Bond to build, expand and renovate eight libraries, was approved by voters in November 2020. During a board briefing on April 19, 2022, bond officials updated the County Board of Commissioners on the progress of the projects and highlighted efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion for each. 

The bond projects continue to be on schedule, said Tracey Massey, director of the Department of County Assets and Chief Information Officer. The budget has increased by $5.65 million to $393 million as bond reserve dollars were committed to Albina and North Portland’s projects to address seismic concerns and program alignment. 

Massey said funds in the Bond Premium Reserve are set aside for unexpected and unforeseen conditions, unusually high inflation rates, project budget gaps, unanticipated market conditions and more. In order to use these Reserve funds, the project leaders must work with executives, the Chief Financial Officer, Chair of the Board of County Commissioners and provide notice to the Board of County Commissioners at a board briefing. 

Mike Day, director of the Library Bond Capital Project, and Vailey Oehlke, Director of Libraries.

Library Capital Bond Project Director Mike Day also highlighted the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the bond projects, from the ongoing procurement process for the East County Flagship Library to the continued robust community engagement work for each project.

For Holgate and Midland, the Community Design Advocates, a paid design program for community members to host focus groups and community conversations with Black, Indigineous and People of Color, LGBTQ and other communities, wrapped up in March. Katie O’Dell, Library Capital Bond Project Deputy Director, said the bond team is looking at possible opportunities for future engagement with the advocates. And starting May 9, three interior design options for Holgate Library will be up for a vote based on ongoing public feedback from virtual meetings and design advocate focus groups. Voting will be available in person at Holgate and on the bond website from May 9 to May 20. 

Design for Holgate and Midland libraries is still underway, with completion scheduled for spring to summer 2024. The Midland updates are being undertaken with an outside consultant considering safety and security for staff and patrons.

At Albina and North Portland, the Youth Opportunity Design Approach began its second paid cohort with 18 members ranging in age from 13-18. The teens are continuing their work designing spaces that represent their communities. There are also continued community feedback sessions, including an in-person event on Saturday, May 14 at the North Portland Meeting Room, where participants can learn more from the architects and provide their feedback on the designs. 

Albina and North Portland libraries did face some unforeseen challenges with seismic concerns and a project funding gap but the issues were addressed and the project is on schedule. Design will continue and North Portland Library is scheduled to be completed in Summer 2024, followed by Albina Library in Fall 2024. 

Day said one of the most exciting milestones concerns the Operations Center, truly the beating heart of the library system. The design team submitted the construction documents to the City of Portland for review and approval on April 8. From there, the Operations Center is on target for completion in Fall 2023. 

Other smaller, but still vital upgrades are planned at 11 libraries, with Central and Capitol Hill set as the first two projects. 

Day noted at the end of the presentation that, although there may be possible risks including supply chain and inflation issues which could impact the projects, the bond project team continues to evaluate and monitor these concerns while staying on schedule and on budget. 

In an exchange with Commissioner Lori Stegmann, library leaders said a site for the East County Flagship is scheduled to be selected and purchased by early 2023. The planned 95,000 square feet building is expected to have an significant economic impact on the region.

Firms tapped to work on the project are using remarkable language to describe the project, said Vailey Oehlke, director of Libraries. “One firm said this is the most important building that will have been built in Multnomah County in 100 years.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson asked what security measures were being incorporated into the new construction and renovations..

Safety and security considerations are being undertaken on every project. “It’s a major priority,’’ Oehlke said, adding that that includes planning lower bookshelves to preserve line of sight across an entire library, and eliminating nooks and crannies.

Commissioner Jayapal asked what the 2% for art program would look like, having just spent time at the Central Courthouse where art “changed the experience for the visitor.’’

Between $4.5 million to $5 million is earmarked for public artwork, administration and maintenance of art, Day said. Oehlke said planners are also considering having galleries where community members could display their art.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran lauded the team on their presentation and their emphasis on equity as libraries are such an example of what it means to belong.

“You’re right Commissioner,’’ Oehlke said. “Unlike almost any other space in our community, libraries truly are meant for everyone. The price of admission is just being a member of this community. So we have this wonderful opportunity to create that kind of beauty and access that some of us take for granted, but a lot of us don’t have access to otherwise. I think this community doesn’t know what’s ahead of it, what’s going to hit them,’’ she said. “These buildings are going to be amazing.”