The Little Building That Almost Could

then and now image
In 1966, Snohomish residents approve a $150,000 bond issue for a library addition, which was dedicated on a snowy Saturday afternoon two years later. The addition more than doubled the square footage, allowing shelf space for twice as many books, places to sit, and an office/workroom for staff.

Architect Harry E. Botesch presented the reconfigured building to the community at the dedication, and Mayor Payson Peterson accepted it for the city. Washington State librarian, Maryan Reynolds, gave the keynote address followed by a public open house for a proud, contented community. But with a man about to land on the moon, along with more people moving to town, Snohomish’s days of innocence were numbered.

In 1989, the library board, now associated with Sno-Isle, formed the Library Expansion Task Force to develop plans for a library that would serve the community for the next 25 years.

Johnston Architects were hired for professional brainstorming and the firm came up with a scheme to attach modern wings on either side of the historic building. A grand opening was planned for spring 1993. It didn’t fly. Snohomish residents balked at the sticker price and the task force retreated to square one.

A new taxing plan appeared on the horizon, first tested by Granite Falls in the state Supreme Court. It was a 1995 state law, which allowed for the formation of an independent taxing entity called Library Capital Facilities Area, or simply, LCFA, for those in the know.

In our case, the LCFA followed the Snohomish School District boundaries, and the plan to enlarge the pool of tax dollars for a new library was approved in 1998. With perfect timing, the library board was ready with a plan prepared by Boyle Wagoner Architects that incorporated the ideas of the earlier design.

Architect's rendering of a 1998 proposal to expand the Carnegie
Pictured here in a conceptual rendering, the plan features the historic building as the main entrance flanked on either side by contemporary wings. The proposal would increase the square footage 5 times over the 1968 addition. It was approved by City Council in December 1998 – but with one no vote – which planted the seed for building a new library somewhere else.

The stumbling block was that several large trees and a row of historic homes would have to be demolished to make room for parking. Consequently, support instantly bloomed for finding an alternate site, which was found with the serendipitous closing of the feed mill on Maple Avenue.

Today, the historic library building is the responsibility of the city but administered by the nonprofit Snohomish Carnegie Foundation, and this summer a professional planner will be selected to return the site to it 1910 origins.

The poetic closing of a circle perhaps; but I can’t help wonder, with population growing around seven percent per year, if the building’s history of being too small might not be starting all over again.


This is the third post celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Snohomish’s Carnegie building; Part Two is HERE; and the first post is HERE.

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