By Oliver Lazenby
Whatcom County Library System’s (WCLS) recent survey on library use in Birch Bay drew a lot of responses and even turned up two new possibilities for a library location in Birch Bay.
The library system conducted an online survey in November and December to gauge interest in a Birch Bay library branch. The number of positive responses impressed WCLS board of trustees members, they said at a December 19 board meeting, and the board reaffirmed their support for staffing a library location at Birch Bay.
“Well over 10 percent of the community responded to the survey, which is a great showing,” said Christine Perkins, WCLS executive director.
Of the 994 respondents, 82 percent said a public library building is “necessary or desirable” in Birch Bay. Some of the rest said they don’t think a library building is “necessary,” but they would like to have one, Perkins said. The majority of respondents also said they would we willing to contribute money toward a library
Some survey responders brought up possible locations for a library: one in a mixed-use building at 4819 Alderson Road, just east of The C Shop, and the other is a vacant lot at 8394 Harborview Road, north of Birch Bay near the Lighthouse Baptist Church.
The library system has already looked into the locations and found them to be possibilities, though they both have limitations. The Alderson Road location is central and pedestrian-friendly, but smaller than desired, tucked in the back of the building where it may see limited foot traffic, and it may lack parking.
Library staff visited the Alderson Road location a couple of times and found six to eight open parking spaces. More parking may be available half a block away in county-owned property, but that’s not certain.
“My first impression is that if there isn’t enough parking we shouldn’t even consider it,” said June Hahn, board vice chair. “That’s something we constantly hear is a problem at Bellingham.”
The empty lot on Harborview Road is 3.9 acres – plenty big for a library. Its drawbacks are its location, nearly a mile north of Birch Bay, and the possibility that a sale might already be pending, Perkins said.
Meeting attendees pointed out that Harborview Road isn’t as safe for pedestrians and bicyclists as the Alderson Road location just off Birch Bay Drive, which will be even more pedestrian-friendly once Whatcom County finishes its berm and walkway project on Birch Bay Drive.
The library system is currently studying another potential library location, a historic house at 7986 Birch Bay Drive, and has allocated $50,000 for a thorough analysis of the property. That location would likely be more expensive than the other two, but trustees like the location and the lot is big enough to allow an expansion to the 2,135-square-foot house.
Zervas Architects is partway through an analysis of the property that hasn’t turned up any “red flags,” said Terry Brown, principal at Zervas Architects.
Longtime Birch Bay residents Gary and Cindy Lou Vogt offered the property as a library in September for $750,000, instigating WCLS’s research into expanding service in Birch Bay.
The Vogts’ original offer had a January 31, 2017 deadline. The current site analysis will be finished on January 17, the date of the next WCLS board meeting. The Vogts’ real estate agent Pat Jerns said the timeline could still work.
“We do have some flexibility,” Jerns said. “We don’t have forever but we do have some time to work with them.”
A physical library at Birch Bay would replace WCLS’s current Bookmobile service. It wouldn’t, however, mean a reduction in service at the Blaine library or an end to Blaine’s efforts to expand its library, Perkins said.