WCLS describes next steps for Birch Bay Vogt Library Express

By Michael Cox, WCLS deputy director

A public library for Birch Bay – a decade-long dream of many residents – will soon become a reality. Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) staff are in the final planning stages for a 1,700-square-foot library within the existing structure of the former Vogt home at 7948 Birch Bay Drive and for public use of the surrounding waterfront property. We are excited to share what community members can expect as we begin construction of the Birch Bay Vogt Library Express.

More than a decade ago, WCLS staff and Birch Bay residents began exploring how to move from weekly bookmobile service to a permanent, full-service branch for the county’s fourth largest community. WCLS purchased the Vogt family property in 2017 to move that vision forward. Following the purchase and in partnership with the nonprofit Friends of the Birch Bay Library, we hosted public meetings where we heard community members’ hopes and dreams for their library.

These conversations guided the design of the initially proposed 7,600-square-foot full-service library. A ballot measure to fund the estimated $6.5 million project narrowly missed the required 60 percent supermajority in November 2021 and February 2022 elections.

So, we asked ourselves: What can we do with what we have? Over the past two years, we sketched out a smaller library. Now, we are underway thanks to financial support from a $2 million state grant, $315,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated by the Whatcom County Council, generous gifts from bp, Phillips 66, an anonymous donor and the Eleanor and Henry Jansen Foundation, and significant individual contributions.

We recently hired Osborn Architects Inc. of Seattle and Lynden and are working with them to begin the construction design process. We will host a public meeting this summer to review the design and timeline. We expect construction costs will continue to rise before renovations begin. We are grateful to the Friends of the Birch Bay Library for continuing to fundraise and share project information.

Once a contractor is selected later this year, they will begin renovating the first floor of the existing building and porch. 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. Depending on the construction schedule, we anticipate the library will open in the second half of 2025. Meanwhile, bookmobile service continues at the site, Wednesdays, 3-7 p.m.

When the building is complete, residents will have many of the resources and gathering spaces they envisioned. They will be able to select from a small collection of library materials and pick up holds reserved online, host meetings of up to 40 people, attend library programs inside, on the lawn or the beach, and relax on the reading porch with a view of the berm and bay. There will also be free access to the internet, computers and printers. Library staff will be on site 20 hours a week. When staff are not in the building, patrons can enter using their library card.

The small but mighty library express will deliver a lot and, significantly, will provide a space for Birch Bay residents to learn, to connect and to have fun. We are excited to finally build a library for and with the Birch Bay community. For more information or to offer financial support, visit wcls.org/birch-bay.

This article originally appeared as an Op-Ed for the Northern Light, April 17, 2024