June 10, 2021

After nearly five years of planning and public engagement, the Multnomah County Library is embarking on major improvements to its spaces and services, officials told the Board of Commissioners during a briefing on June 7.

Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke and other Library officials shared critical updates about the Library Capital Bond program, passed by voters in November 2020 to fund improvements across the Multnomah County Library system. 

The $387 million bond will allow the County to renovate and expand existing library sites, and build a new flagship library in East County, which will begin construction in 2022. 

Oehkle, along with Interim Department of County Assets Director and Chief Information Office Tracey Massey and Library Capital Bond Project Director Mike Day, described how the various projects will be developed, and how they will meet the County’s and Library’s diversity equity, and community engagement goals.

Work on the new capital projects began in 2016 when the library launched a public input process to hear the community’s priorities for library spaces. That process included participation from nearly 2,000 community members at 51 community conversations at libraries, community centers, service agencies and partner organizations across Multnomah County, plus 13 culturally specific focus groups. 

A year-long analysis of library spaces, distribution and patron use patterns revealed a gap between the County’s growing population and its limited library spaces, as well as the lack of library space in certain areas, particularly in East County. 

A Blue Ribbon Committee, composed of local civic and business leaders, also independently reviewed the Library’s research, as well as its plans and cost projections for future spaces. 

According to the preliminary timeline, work will begin this year on a new library operations center and the Midland, Holgate, North Portland, and Albina libraries. The project will extend through 2025, when construction on the East County flagship site will finish. Day, the project director, said that he and his team have been evaluating both bond “spend down” requirements and timeline sequencing to ensure the County’s obligations to the public are met. The baseline schedule will be finalized later in June.

“We’re working through the programming process and the validating of the existing assumptions that were a part of the bond vote back in November — confirming the market conditions, escalation, reviewing all of those conditions and really peeling back the layers and looking at everything as we validate project costs and budgets and forecasts both for the hard and soft costs,” Day said.

He continued that large strides have already been taken with the brand new operations center, which is well into the program development phase. Henneberry Eddy Architects will design the 45,000 square feet of warehouse space that will become an automated storage, sorting and distribution facility. An additional 25,000 square feet of space will be designed for outreach and technical services. 

Since January, intentionally equitable procurement has been one of the main goals as the Library looks to hire chief consultants and contractors while prioritizing County and library values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Day says that building capacity with firms that are recognized by the Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity (COBID) — businesses owned by minorities, women and service disabled veterans, as well as emerging small businesses — has been a focus.

“We really want to make sure we bring in the best possible partners, the eight teams, that will truly serve the County and align with the County values and library values and mission,” he said.

Aside from ensuring COBID-certified firms have a major role in the construction and renovation of new libraries, Oehlke said that the Library will also focus on community and neighborhood engagement outreach early and often throughout the process.

“We’ve been getting a lot of questions about what those buildings are going to look like and what’s going to be in them, and we’ve been asking for folk’s patience because we’ve been really wanting to center the community in that work,” she said.

“While we may have a lot of really exciting thoughts and hopes for those spaces, it’s important that we bring in the community and ask their hopes and aspirations for those spaces as well.”

After thanking the presenters, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said that having heard plans to renovate the library “for years,” she is grateful to the voters for giving Multnomah County the “opportunity to make this investment in our libraries.”

“To be at this point where we are literally getting ready to build is fantastic. I know that our libraries mean so much for our community. I know it has been a great thing to have the library here for folks, and just having the kind of investments that improve those will be really important,” she said.

As the Capital Bond Project moves forward, Library officials will meet with the board monthly beginning this summer and share progress with the public quarterly. The next board briefing is scheduled for September.