Rendition of new library

Rendition of new library
The New Point Roberts Library Out of the Old Julius Firehall

Friday, December 2, 2016

Next Act

Almost a month since election day and the truly unhappy news that the new library levy put forth by the Park and Recreation District had failed to reach the 60% of votes required by Washington law. Alas, I believe it was the only levy that failed in Whatcom County.  On the other hand, it did NOT fail to achieve a majority+ of votes: over 55% of voters did vote to approve the levy which would have required an average property owner payment of $100 for one year in order to build a new library for Point Roberts.  A library that would have served our community well for decades.

But, what's done is done.  There are two ways forward: first, those of us at FOPRL could just say, "well, the voters have spoken and that's that."  But I don't think that's going to happen because although the voters have voted, the majority of the voters also spoke; and the majority of people in Point Roberts spoke even earlier when FOPRL received many hundreds of individually-identified donations.  FOPRL feels a deep commitment both to those who already donated over a half-million dollars to build a new library at the site of the Julius Firehall, to those who supported the levy, and to our own view of the community's real need for a new, centrally-located, larger, and appropriately outfitted library that will serve us and those who come after us well into the 21st Century.

At the moment, we are working on next steps forward.  We have met with the Park and Recreation Commission and with Whatcom County Library System, our two partners in this project, to review the options for a plan to move this project forward as originally intended.  It has a bunch of moving parts, but we hope to be able to get it finalized by January (given the demands of the holiday season).  We will have to do some further fundraising, of course, but we have already received some encouraging offers of significant help.  And we would be happy to receive more offers, of course!  Just call me.

So, that's it for the moment, but stay tuned!  The Board of the Friends of the Point Roberts Library, and especially Ed and I personally, extend our great thanks for all you have done for this project over the last 5 years.  We look forward to completing this new library which will mean so much to us all when it is finished, and mean even more perhaps because it has been a challenge that we will have overcome together.  A library is a community treasure and we believe we will have that renewed treasure, soon.

--Judy Ross
President, Friends of the Point Roberts Library

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Levy Results

Unfortunately, it looks as if the new library levy has not passed.  The report of votes last night at 5 p.m., with 503 votes counted, had 54% voting yes, and 46% voting no.  A 60% yes vote is required for a levy to pass.  It is unlikely that the final votes yet to be counted would change those figures.

Three of the members of the Board of Directors are away from the Point right now, but when they return we will discuss where we go next.  My guess is that we will also have a public meeting to discuss possibilities.  Sorry; sorry for many things this week, this year.  --Judy Ross

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Facts are Important

The November All Point Bulletin is out now and I see that there are a bunch of “Letters to the Editor” about the new library.  I hope that we have not lost track of the actual existence of facts, but I do note that the two letters in opposition are sort of fact-challenged.  So, here’s an attempt to address that.

Stan Riffle writes with great concern about the Park and Rec District taking on too much debt.  This suggests he doesn’t grasp the difference between a bond and a levy, which you would think he would given that he is a Commissioner at the Fire District.  A bond is debt; a levy is income.  So, the one-time levy is not debt, not something that has to be repaid, not now, not next year, not ever.   The levy will increase property owners’ taxes by, on average, about $100 for one year.  If the levy passes, property owners will pay half of their share of the levy with their first tax installment in 2017 and the other half will be paid with the second installment in 2017.  And that’s it.  No more levy payments, no debt to be paid back, no change in the Park & Rec debt level.  And there will be a new library, significantly increasing the District’s asset values.

Linda Hughes takes the position that a library is not important enough for taxpayers to pay a million dollars.  The most recent cost estimate is not a million dollars, nor even $900,00 as Mr. Riffle asserts, but $840,000.  This includes a substantial contingency fund for the unknown unknowns. The known unknowns have apparently already been resolved during the permitting process: we will not need an entirely new septic system, nor additional parking, etc.  

Perhaps Ms. Hughes also thinks that $840,000 is too much for the taxpayers to pay for a new library.  But, of course, nobody is asking the taxpayers to pay $840,000.  They are being asked as a group to pay up to $300,000, 35% of the cost.  The remainder of the cost is covered by donors who have already contributed $540,000+ to the Friends of the Point Roberts Library for this new library: some of them property owners, but also residents, their relatives, summer visitors, local businesses, Washington philanthropic foundations, and businesses from outside the Point.

The Friends asked for and accepted these donations to reconstruct the Julius Fire Hall into a new and appropriate for decades to come library, and that is what the money is to be used for.  It is not a gift to the Park and Rec District to spend as they want.  The Friends of the Library are saying to property owners in Point Roberts, “We will pay 65% of the costs of the new library.  Will you pay the other ⅓?  Will you look that big gift horse in the mouth?”

Those are the facts of this levy request.

Judy Ross, for The Friends of the Point Roberts Library

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Sign?

There's a sign urging folks to vote for the levy down near the intersection of APA and Tyee.  Both today and yesterday, rainbows appeared above it.  Think it's a sign from above?  Hope so; ballot came in the mail today.  Two more weeks to speak to friends and neighbors, encouraging them to vote Yes on the levy.  We need 60% of those voting to approve it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Levy on the November 8 Ballot

From the All Point Bulletin, October 2016

Over the summer, the most frequent question we heard was “How’s the library project coming?”  That was easy to answer (and the details are in last months APB).  The second most frequent question was, “Why does it cost so much?”   That’s not so easy to answer, but I’ll give it a try.

From the beginning, we’ve talked about remodeling the Julius Firehall for a new library.  That’s how the architect described it in his original plans: most of the outside walls and the slab would be maintained, although there would be a new roof and an entirely new inside.  The footprint was not expected to change.  People might reasonably think that the final cost is high for a remodeling job.

But, the original planning was 5 years ago and in the interim, a radar machine discovered that half of the slab would have to be replaced and the other half would need remediation.  The County decided that a new septic tank would be needed; we may need more parking places.  These have all increased the original estimate.

Five years of inflation have also increased the construction costs, especially.  Two years ago, our Whatcom County Executive told me we’d be lucky to get the project in then at under $325/square foot.  The current estimate is about $336.  There’s a lot of building going on in Whatcom County and further south, which has put considerable pressure on building costs even when overall inflation is not that high.

A public building project (and this library is a public building, owned by the Park and Recreation District) must be put out to competitive bid with the contract going to the lowest bidder.  That means the low bidder could be cutting all kinds of corners to increase his profits.  To counteract that inclination, the county has many requirements for public construction standards that are not imposed on private construction.  For a private job, the private owner looks out for his own interests; in a public project, the county looks out for the public whose money is financing the project.  That extra scrutiny increases costs, but minimizes the chance of shoddy construction.

And, finally, a public building is meant to last.  You build a home, you may expect to live in it for 20 years, but you’ll probably be doing a lot of maintenance, repair, and remodeling during that time.  A public building needs to last longer than a house.   The building materials need to be more durable and thus will be more expensive.  The Community Center has been around for 70 years and has had very little major work during that time (although some has been necessary over the past two years).  The new library will last, too.  Not forever, but long enough so that the community will not be needing to raise more money every 5 or 10 years to repair or replace elements.  

It’s part of our gift to the future: a library that lasts, as we have received from an earlier generation a Community Center that has lasted. 

—Judy Ross, Friends of the Point Roberts Library

From the All Point Bulletin, September 2016


The short answer: lots happening, but nothing that’s very visible. There are two strands, though.

First, the funding line.  The Friends have stopped actively raising funds, although we still receive and gratefully accept donations.  The Park and Recreation District has placed an “up-to-$300,000” levy on the November 8 ballot.  The reason for that “up-to” phrase is that by the time of the actual vote, we’ll have a much more solid idea of the actual costs.  But the best estimate now is that to move to construction, we’ll need no more and perhaps less than $300,000.  The total estimate also includes a 10% contingency, so the budget takes account of surprises.

The levy will set a one-time increase in property taxes of 51 cents/$1,000 of property assessment.  Thus, in 2017, owners of a property assessed at $200,000 will pay, one time, no more than $102.00.  And then, we’ll all get a brand new library.  Remember that no one is asking taxpayers to pay $840,000 for a new library.  The Friends have raised $540,000 in private donations from businesses, foundations, and individuals. So property taxes pay only about ⅓ of the costs.  If Bill Gates dropped by and offered to give us $540,000 to build a new library if property owners paid the final $300,000, we’d probably think, “that’s a good deal.”

Second, the construction line.  We have final design drawings and a final budget estimate.  We began the permitting process in July.  That is an ongoing process, but we are pleased to report that the County has accepted the current septic field, but will require a new septic tank.  That is a small cost increase; requiring a new field would be a much bigger increase, so we are pleased with that outcome.  In addition, we are not required to do any wetlands mitigation.  Further, it looks like the issue of additional parking spaces will be resolved in our favor. We expect the rest to go through pretty routinely, but with permitting you never know.  Stay tuned.

That’s what’s happening.  We’re working on a “Vote Yes on the Levy” campaign; the Park District will be getting ready for construction bidding.  It’s a big second stage.  We’re glad that you’ve been with us so far, and hope for your continued support.

Judy Ross
Friends of the Point Roberts Library

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Annual General Meeting of FOPRL This Sunday, 2-4 pm







For Information, ask the Library Staff or contact Judy Ross, x3180.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Just How Well Is This Going?

Meeting 1, March 9.
Last Wednesday's special meeting of the PR. Park and Recreation District turned out to be held in a driving rainstorm, although everyone was safely indoors by the time the meeting began.  About 40 stalwart souls showed up.  It began with three of the District Commissioners describing their support for the library and for putting a levy on the ballot to cover the gap funding.  Community members in attendance were then asked to express their views about several matters, including the levy amount, the "build-to-lockup" possibility, and the "renovate-or-build-from scratch" choice.  About 15 people spoke over the hour-plus time that remained.  Two of the issues stood out: almost all the speakers spoke in favor of a ballot levy this fall, with advice to make it enough so the building could be built well and would grace and serve this community for many decades to come.  Many speakers spoke very forcefully, following Tom Bradbury's lead, in favor of demolishing the Firehall, and building the new library from the ground up, including raising the foundation a couple of feet.  A few people endorsed the build-to-lockup strategy, a few opposed, but most didn't mention it.

Those of us who were there from the Friends were most pleased with the strength and the level of public support.  There may be new library opponents out there, but they were either not at this meeting or at least were not willing to raise their voices.  The meeting ended with the Park and Rec Commissioners committing themselves to sorting out the many issues that need to be dealt with over the next few months and to begin establishing priorities and making decisions.  Yes, that went well, we thought.

Meeting 2, March 14.
Less than a week later, Monday, March 14, the Commissioners met again at their regular meeting and began, surprisingly, not to follow up on that promise.   Commission Chair Linda Hughes, who had not given any of her views at the special meeting the previous week, announced that (1) she would not support a levy for further library money under any circumstance, and (2) that not enough people had spoken at the meeting so more people needed to be heard from and she would conduct a survey, via the internet.  She acknowledged that a levy was still probable, because hers was only one vote, but she explained that she didn't see why the library couldn't just be built with the money that the Friends had raised in the community.  (This was certainly not what the public had said at the first meeting: several speakers spoke firmly in favor of an even larger levy than was on the table exactly to ensure that there would NOT be any corners cut in the building process.)

The remainder of the discussion at the second meeting, the one on Monday the 14th, was largely at cross purposes with the earlier goal of setting priorities.  However, it was clear that the Commissioners agreed the building should be seen as a 'start over' and not as a renovation.  But somehow, from that point on, magical thoughts began to dominate the discussion.  Perhaps, if the building were to start afresh, it could be much cheaper.  Perhaps if it were rectangular without any "bump outs" to increase the size of the children's area or to accommodate a multi-purpose room large enough to be a room (both features in the original design), or if it had fewer (unidentified) architectural amenities, or if it had a second floor, or if it looked like Brewster's Restaurant, well, then it would be much, much cheaper.  And it could be cheap and still be beautiful.  Slowly, several of the Commissioners seemed to be working themselves around, in some unclear way, to be building a different library, not the one that the Friends had been raising money for over the past 4 years, but a design that would be really inexpensive, even though it was a public building and had to meet the requirements for public/commercial buildings that are not required for private houses.  (Be advised that the Friends has already paid almost $40,000 for the current design, engineering, and architectural drawings.  Well surely, some thought, it wouldn't cost much to re-do them.)

This air dream that it could all be done much more cheaply became totally pervasive.  Perhaps the Park District could just sell the building at a discount to the Friends and then the Friends could take on the construction as a private party, which would enable the work to be done by volunteers and with no requirement to meet county codes for public buildings and then it could be given back to the Park District at completion.

And then the discussion ended for lack of time and the plan of action was to get that internet survey conducted and to ask the architect about (1) demolishing the building and laying a new and higher foundation to help drainage, as well as (2) how much it would cost to design a new building that would be much cheaper.

Well, no, I don't think that went very well.

If you are concerned, I urge you to make your views known through the survey, by writing to the Commissioners, and/or by attending the Park and Rec District's next meeting, the second Tuesday  Monday in April (April 11), 7 pm at the Community Center.  In addition, the Friends of the Library will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Sunday, April 3, 2-4 at the Community Center.  I think you might want to be sure to attend that meeting.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Big Meeting on Wednesday, March 9, 6 pm

The Park and Recreation District is holding a special public meeting to hear what the community has to say about raising the final funding for the new library.  The District is committed to raising the so-called "Gap Funding" (the $159,000 difference between our original goal and the current estimate of total construction and associated costs).

Those of us who organized the fundraising are endlessly grateful to everyone who has helped put that $540,000 in the bank.  There are over  a thousand of you, plus hundreds more who have contributed in other ways.  We thank you AND we need your help one more time: at this meeting.

There have, of course, always been a few people here who didn't support the new library.  But we need their numbers to be dwarfed at this meeting by the many who have shown in every way possible that this library is important to them, their families, and their community.  We need you to make sure that the Park and Recreation District Commissioners know that you expect them to move ahead, promptly and effectively, with the extra funding.

Below is a brief information sheet with an outline of the issues that the meeting will address.  If you want more detailed information, let me know ( and I'll send you a 3-page sheet, or you can pick one up at the library on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The meeting is at 6 pm, Wednesday, March 9, at the Community Center. Looking forward to seeing you there.

--Judy Ross, for the Friends of the Point Roberts Library


1. How much will it cost:             $699,000
2. How much do we have:            $540,000
3.  How much more do we need:  $159,000

Who raises that extra money?
The P.R. Park and Recreation District

1.  By placing a direct tax levy or bond on the November ballot.
2.  A direct levy could be just for the new library or for the new library and for other Park District projects.

What does that mean to me as a taxpayer?
  1. A levy would be apportioned over all taxable properties on the Point.  
  2. It would be paid off in one year.
  3. If there is a $159,000 levy/bond just for the library, the owner of a home/property assessed at $200,000 would pay a one-time additional $53 in property taxes.
  4. If the levy included other P&R projects, the additional tax would be somewhat more.
Two options for construction timing:
  1. We can wait until after a successful levy to get permits and to solicit bids for construction.  Construction could begin in early 2017 and finish by early 2018.
  2. We can release the funds we have on hand to begin the permitting and bidding process now and “build to lockup” (complete all site/exterior/roofing/foundation/electrical and most mechanical work). The final interior work would be done after the levy is passed.  This means that the library could be finished by mid-year, 2017.  “Building to Lockup” means that we would keep the momentum going, that we would not have an additional year of inflation costs, that the library would be finished sooner, and that local contractors would have a better chance of being included in the interior work.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Good News, the Less Good News

Well, let's start with the good news: as of January 1, 2016, we have raised $540,680, slightly more than the original goal of $538,000.  So, hoorays all round for the funders of all kinds, the fundraisers, the FOPRL people, the WCLS people, and the spirits of the world that love libraries.  This goal was set in April, 2012, in the Feasibility Study prepared by Bellingham architect, David King.  [A copy of that Study is on our webpage:]  We have always known that the final cost estimates would be higher than that number, but there would be no way of our knowing how much higher because of inevitable uncertainties about inflationary pressures and about possible difficulties with the site.

The final cost estimates were reported to FOPRL in early January and the gap between those costs and the funds we had raised was considerably higher than we had expected, largely because of (1) problems with the existing building slab, (2) higher inflation costs, (3) increased electrical costs, and (4) design additions that had been added over the 4-year fundraising period (the kind of "wouldn't it be nice if we had..." additions).

We had expected the January 12th meeting with the architect would allow us to discuss with Mr. King how to address some of these problems and their accompanying costs.  However, because of the limited time (one hour immediately followed by a meeting with the Community Advisory Committee evaluating the design in terms of the Point Roberts Character Plan), and the large number of people present, we were unable to do this.

So we've got another meeting set up on January 22 in Bellingham to do that.  Two of us from FOPRL will be joined by David King, by two Park & Rec representatives, and by Christine Perkins of WCLS.  After that meeting, we'll have some better idea of the actual costs we're facing.  Then, we'll have a public meeting to explain more fully what the design will encompass, how much it is likely to cost, and how we will address those costs, including the gap.  We at FOPRL are confident that we are moving ahead on this project and that a new and beautiful library will be in our near future.

Judy Ross
--for Friends of the Point Roberts Library