WCLS considers next steps for Birch Bay Library

At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Whatcom County Library System’s Board of Trustees learned the Washington State Department of Commerce has declined a scope change request related to state funding for the Birch Bay Library. The previously approved $2 million state grant remains available, but it cannot be used for the proposal that would have reduced the size of the proposed Birch Bay Library. Board members and library staff will now work with the community to consider other options to improve library services in Birch Bay.  

Library officials submitted the request last year after ballot measures asking voters to support construction of a 7,600-square-foot library narrowly missed approval. Without voter-approved funding, the project fell short of the total needed to break ground. The scope change would have reduced the size and cost of the project, using private donations and a $2 million allocation from the Department of Commerce to renovate the existing house into a Library Express location, a smaller library with holds pickup, a small browsing collection, and improved parking.   

“While the latest setback to the Birch Bay Library project is unfortunate, we remain committed to working with the Birch Bay community — especially the Friends of the Birch Bay Library — to consider other solutions,” says WCLS Trustee Rod Lofdahl. “We believe library services are critical for this growing community. It’s a project that will have a long-term, meaningful impact, so taking the time to get it right, is the best thing to do.”  

Staff, trustees and community members will meet in the coming months to develop a list of possibilities. WCLS does not have any immediate plans to sell the library property on Birch Bay Drive. 

Department of Commerce staff have indicated that the $2 million allocation is still available for the larger project as originally intended, and WCLS staff may ask that the funds be carried forward into another biennium. However, the total price tag for the full 7,600-square-foot library is approximately $6.5 million and significant private fundraising would need to happen to make up the $4.5 million balance. 

The decision is the latest step in WCLS’s efforts to work with local citizens to improve library services for the rapidly growing Birch Bay community. In April 2017, WCLS purchased property at 7968 Birch Bay Drive for a proposed full-service library to replace WCLS bookmobile service to Birch Bay. In spring 2019, the Washington State Legislature allocated $2 million in funding for the Birch Bay Vogt Community Library. A ballot measure to build the library narrowly missed passage by the required 60 percent supermajority in the November 2021 and February 2022 elections.