Thanks to successful advocacy efforts by Birch Bay residents and Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) staff, the Washington State Legislature has approved the reallocation of a $2 million state grant to largely fund the renovation of the Vogt home at 7948 Birch Bay Drive as the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express. The state’s decision follows years of community planning and ballot measures in 2021 and 2022 that fell just short of building a full-service WCLS branch in Birch Bay. The nonprofit Friends of Birch Bay Library must raise an additional $300,000 to fully fund the project.
“We are excited to build a library for and with the Birch Bay community,” says WCLS Executive Director Christine Perkins. “Challenges and setbacks are common in large-scale projects, and that has certainly been the case for this library. While we still have much to do and questions to explore in the months ahead, envisioning people of all ages enjoying this community space makes the work worthwhile.”
The state grant was initially designated in 2019 to partially cover the cost of building a 7,600-square-foot public library on the site. When ballot measures to fully fund the library project narrowly missed passage, WCLS staff requested that the grant be reallocated to create a 1,700-square-foot library express within the existing structure of the iconic Vogt home and for public use of the surrounding property. The reallocation request was initially denied in December 2022. That decision was reversed in April following outreach by community members, library staff and county legislators.
The $2 million grant covers most of the costs to renovate the home and property as a library and community gathering spot. Previous fundraising will also contribute to the total needed. Volunteers with Friends of Birch Bay Library will host fundraisers and reach out to community organizations and individuals to raise the remaining $300,000. WCLS staff are project managers. If fully funded, construction may begin as early as spring 2024.
Expenses include property purchase, a new foundation, parking expansion, full interior renovation, roof repairs, improved weather-proof windows and exterior cladding, ADA and public safety upgrades, and archeological preservation. Public spaces will be on the first floor and porch of the home and the surrounding property. Staff workspaces and storage will be on the second floor; public access to the second floor isn’t possible due to accessibility and safety requirements.
The library’s official name will be the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express in honor of the family who homesteaded this area and their descendants who sold the property to the Whatcom County Library System.
“When I was young, I couldn’t get to Blaine to visit the library,” says Gary Vogt, who, with his wife Cindy Lou, lives next door to their former family home and future library site. “Our vision for this project was to honor Birch Bay’s history and honor my grandparents Grover and Anna Vogt by opening this great home to the Birch Bay community and its visitors as a library. A library will be a great asset for this community.”
At the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express, community members will be able to select from a small collection of library materials and pick up holds reserved online, enjoy free access to computers and the internet, print documents, host meetings of up to 40 people, attend storytimes and other library programs inside or on the lawn, and relax on the outside reading porch with a view of the Birch Bay berm and the water.
“The Friends are beyond thrilled,” says Friends of Birch Bay Library President Dianne Marrs-Smith. “This is a true win-win for Birch Bay. Having a gathering place that offers enhanced library services for year-long residents is huge. Preserving an iconic piece of Birch Bay history for community and seasonal visitors is priceless. Friends of Birch Bay Library’s work is not quite done. With our community’s help, we will be able to raise the last of our donations, so we can complete the renovation and site upgrades.”
“We are grateful for the persistence, patience and enthusiasm of everyone involved in creating the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express,” Perkins adds. “They believed from the start that a library would have a long-term meaningful impact on their growing community. If fundraising is successful, their dream can become a reality.”
ABOUT THE PROJECT AND PARTNERS
Birch Bay is one of the fastest growing areas in Whatcom County. Year-round population is more than 10,000, making Birch Bay the fourth most populated area of the county, after Bellingham, Ferndale and Lynden. This thriving community, which includes about 2,000 children, has no public gathering spaces or schools and limited access to resources like computers, books and movies. WCLS recognizes that the Birch Bay community needs — and has requested — expanded library services.
In April 2017, WCLS purchased property at 7948 Birch Bay Drive for a proposed full-service library to replace WCLS bookmobile service to Birch Bay. A library building project was designed with community input and sized to accommodate Birch Bay’s growing population. In 2019, the Washington State Legislature designated $2 million in funding for the library. A ballot measure to raise the remaining funds to build the proposed library narrowly missed passage by the required 60 percent supermajority in November 2021 and February 2022 elections.
In summer 2022, WCLS staff submitted a project scope change request to allocate the state grant to a renovation of the historic home on site. This request was first declined by the state legislature but was approved in April 2023.
If developed, the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express will have a small collection of library materials, after-hours hold pick up, public computers and meeting space. Library patrons will also be able to read on the seaside porch and gather for library programs on the lawn.
The Birch Bay site is on the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish peoples. WCLS staff are working with Lummi Nation to protect cultural artifacts beneath the site and to honor Lummi Nation’s enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
WHAT IS WHATCOM COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM’S ROLE?
Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) will operate the library by providing staff, library materials, events, technology and infrastructure. The Birch Bay Vogt Library Express would be one of 11 WCLS branches serving residents who live outside the city limits of Bellingham. WCLS branches are in Blaine, Deming, Everson, Ferndale, Kendall (North Fork Library) Lummi Island (Island Library), Lynden, Point Roberts, Sudden Valley (South Whatcom Library) and Sumas. The WCLS bookmobile currently serves Birch Bay, Glenhaven, Lake Samish and Wickersham. There are also WCLS Library Express locations on Northwest Drive in Bellingham and in the communities of Point Roberts and Sumas. The county library system is independent of Bellingham Public Library.
WCLS circulates more than 2 million items annually. Residents have access to WCLS’s rich collection, including books in print and digital formats, music and movies and online digital services. Library system staff plan and host inspiring events for every age. Experience “The Power of Sharing” by visiting in person or online at wcls.org.
WHO ARE THE FRIENDS OF BIRCH BAY LIBRARY?
The Friends of Birch Bay Library is a nonprofit organization of residents advocating and raising funds for a branch library of the Whatcom County Library System.