New area libraries may not open

Phoenix, Shady Cove libraries will be complete this fall; shortfall means they may never be used

PHOENIX — When library officials meet with Acme West Construction next week to finalize construction documents for the Phoenix Library, optimism will be hard to muster, but it will be present nonetheless.

"The way we're moving forward is with the mindset that we'll get a (library funding) measure on the ballot in May and it'll pass," said Anne Billeter, south region manager for Jackson County Library Services.

That said, without a levy passing in May, or without some other funding solution — short or long term — the Phoenix Library could be one of a pair that will hold the distinction of being the only new libraries built through a $39 million bond to never enjoy a grand opening.

With all county library branches set to close April 6 due to loss of federal timber funding, the current funding crisis is merely the latest in a series of struggles to see the Phoenix library replaced.

Much of the past year has found Friends of the Phoenix Library in a juggling act of sorts between searching for land and fundraising to increase the size and scope of the small city library.

One of the last of 15 libraries to be replaced by the bond passed in 2000, the library's old home on Second Street was landlocked next door to the Phoenix Fire Department.

With a shortage of available land and little money for a suitable site, City Council members ultimately voted to give up the City Hall location for the new library.

City offices moved into temporary quarters, which included the old library location and a small surrounding area, this summer. Library services were moved to a temporary "pocket library" on First Street.

Property search aside, other delays added months to the project, which will finally break ground in the coming weeks. With a little luck, and no further delays, the project could see completion by fall.

"So by the time we finally get it built it might not ever open," said Friends of the Phoenix Library spokesperson Robert Mumby.

Along with hundreds of others on Wednesday morning, Mumby attended a much-publicized county commissioners meeting to voice frustration with the current funding crisis. Mumby said much of his frustration came from county commissioners not endorsing a levy in November.

"Of all library levies passed last year in Oregon — there were seven new ones — they had local support," Mumby said.

"Our local officials did not support our levy (in November) and it was made quite obvious by at least one of them," he said. "If they continue this attitude we're very pessimistic about getting more money. To pass a levy in May, especially with a double majority, if they're not fully behind it, won't stand a chance."

In addition to Phoenix, Shady Cove's library will likely see completion of its new facility this fall.

Also included on the final tier of construction projects, Billeter said, the Talent Library faces a fate similar to Phoenix and Shady Cove, though community members would at least get to see inside before the countywide closure.

"Talent is about to open, then close. They'll close for two weeks to move in, then open for six weeks before it closes," Billeter said. "But the attitude of the library supporters, including Phoenix Friends, is that libraries will reopen and that libraries are the centers of our community and that it is unacceptable for libraries to be closed. Period."

Mumby, for one, says he plans to rally support and push for a library funding levy in May. Even with funding in May, he said the county had much work to do in finding "a permanent solution" to its budget woes, which include cuts to roads and the sheriff's departments.

After such hard work in fundraising for its own small library, Mumby said the possibility the new branch would not open was not acceptable to those who worked to see it built. In addition to bond funding, the group has raised extra money for a walkway connecting the library to a nearby elementary school and for more meeting space.

"We worked quite hard, though we thought once we got the building site set up and raised some extra money that our job was almost finished," Mumby said. "For all the communities contributing so much effort into their libraries to have them close up is going to be a real blow. Something has to be done."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.


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