The City of Salem is seriously considering converting the Public Library at the Civic Center into a police facility. The library would be moved to some other location in the downtown area.
Pretty big news. It'll be interesting to see how the community reacts to the idea.
The proposal was discussed at today's Salem City Council work session in the Anderson Room of the Salem Public Library. Topic: how to move forward with plans for a new police facility and seismic upgrades (plus other renovations) to the Civic Center.
I'd figured that the City Council would lean toward an alternative to the original $80 million plan to build a new police facility with underground parking adjacent to the current Mirror Pond. Which would become Mirror Drainage Swale after a 75,000 square foot police facility building was constructed near and over it.
But converting the 90,000 square foot Salem Public Library to a police facility... that notion had surfaced in several settings, yet seemed too far-out and controversial to be a viable alternative to the plan that the City has been promoting since last fall.
Who knows, though? At least city officials are thinkng outside the box, a term that I recall was used several times during the work session.
A big question is where the Salem Public Library would be moved to.
To me, the best idea was the "window to the west" lot across the street from the Civic Center. A councilor noted that this would provide library patrons with a nice view of the riverfront area.
Seems better than another idea: using the ground floor of the Marion Parkade. The plus side of this location, a councilor said, was that the West Salem branch library could be closed and West Salemians could have easy access to the relocated Salem Public Library on the north side of downtown.
Well, it's good that city officials are looking at alternatives to the way over-priced $80 million original proposal (more like $87 million, once seismic upgrades to the library are added in).
A lot of questions remain to be answered, though.
My intuitive reaction is skepticism: currently Salem has a functional library and a crappy police facility crammed into inadequate space on the ground floor of City Hall. So it makes sense to leave the library alone, other than making seismic upgrades, and to build a new police facility somewhere on vacant land out in the community with lower cost surface, rather than underground, parking.
That way a new police facility could be designed from the ground up. I heard Police Chief Moore say that if the library were to be converted into a police facility, it would requre a lot of remodeling. For sure. A library and a police facility are very different architectural animals.
So what we'd probably end up with under the notion discussed at the work session is a semi-crappy police facility in the old library building, and a semi-crappy library in some new location.
I'm assuming that a new library wouldn't have the same easy access from a parking structure and two one-way streets going south and north, nor the same kind of meeting rooms and other amenities in the current library, nor an auditorium comparable to the current Loucks Auditorium.
Regarding Loucks, the talk today was to make it into a combined City Council chambers and Courtroom. It was unclear whether it still could be used as a community auditorium. Certainly the availability of Loucks would be much reduced.
What's clear from the meeting today is this: the Mayor and City Manager are still deadset on building a new police facility at the Civic Center. This is the unmovable conceptual object that's preventing worthy ideas such as a new police facility elsewhere in Salem -- like on Portland Road -- from being considered by the City.
Comments were made by councilors that voters won't approve a bond measure with a $80-90 million price tag. So the questionable logic becomes: Police Facility at Civic Center + Must be cheaper = Take over the Salem Public Library for a Police Facility and move the library.
I say "questionable" because a lot more research needs to be done into the costs and benefits of this idea.
The best suggestion I heard at the work session was to form a task force to consider alternatives to the current police facility/Civic Center proposal. Not, as the Mayor correctly said, to get into geeky construction and design details. But to recommend what is needed, and where a new police facility should be located.
Mayor Peterson sounded rather testy when she, once again, claimed that planning for this project has been all open and transparent from the beginning, including now. I disagree. But from now on, hopefully the openness and transparency will be genuine.
Forming that task force would be a good start.
Converting the library into a police facility is going to be controversial, to put it mildly. This should have been discussed at community meetings before being sprung on Salemians at this work session, where nobody other than city officials and staff were allowed to speak.
Watching the proceedings today, it seemed obvious that a decision to start planning for the library conversion already had been made. I felt like I was watching a script unfold with some good actors speaking their semi-improvised lines.
The theatrics were skillfully done. I'll give city officials credit for that.
The plot line wasn't obvious for quite a while. It was only when councilors started asking a series of questions about the library that I became aware where the work session was heading.