Deserving government projects can become unwanted government projects if the public feels excluded. Which leads us back again to the Deschutes Public Library System’s expansion plans.
The library district did not bungle this. For six years, it talked about its expansion plans and it invited the public to participate. Thousands participated. The district was open about its plans at library board meetings. It talked about the plans to the media. The Bulletin wrote about them.
But even now, long after the November election when voters approved the $195 million bond and the library board has moved ahead on the plans, there are some who still have questions and concerns. We get that. Some would have preferred the library expansion be decentralized and put more emphasis on regional libraries. We get that, too. What we would like to focus on here is concern about the proposed location of the new, 100,000-square-foot central library.
The library district bought 12 acres for it off U.S. Highway 20 and Robal Lane. That’s near the Sheriff’s Office. Some have said it should be located more centrally in Bend to basically concentrate development rather than further pushing out, leading to new transportation demands.
We found one argument raised at the library board’s meeting on Wednesday particularly interesting. The speaker said the library board didn’t ask the public about that location. The library should stop now and get feedback from voters on the location before it’s too late, the argument went.
The library actually bought that land in a public process conducted during public meetings. If people had wanted to challenge the location that should have been brought up more than a year ago when the library board was making its decision. Library officials told us they did hunt for other more central locations in Bend. They did not find what they were looking for. In that search for land, the library sure seemed to do what was appropriate for any government entity to do. When the school board looks to buy land for a new school, it goes through a process similar to what the library did. Should the library have done more?
Yes, it could have. The location is a big decision about the library’s and the community’s future. It could have paused in the process before it made the final purchase and tried to reach out to more people to get their feedback. It could even put the brakes on now and make more effort to gather input to ensure the location is what people want.
That is not necessary nor appropriate. Nobody should be disappointed in the way the library board and the district staff made its decisions about its expansion. They did good work. The library system had not asked for a new tax initiative for 23 years. It was time. The county’s growth has outpaced the library system. The library board and the district staff made every reasonable effort to let people know what it was doing and what it planned.