Hope for Gladstone/Oak Lodge libraries could be at hand
Can our long-deferred dreams really come true? We certainly hope so.
It is rumored that Clackamas County is close to announcing a plan that will untangle Gladstone and Oak Lodge to go their separate ways, each to decide how best to provide library services for their citizens. A library appropriate to each community will result from this sensible new approach. This may prove to be a wonderful and welcome change, far too long in coming.
Now it is hoped that the library taxes paid by Oak Lodge Library service area residents will remain to fund the operations, programs and services of the Oak Lodge Library, as approved by Ballot Measure 3-310 passed in 2008. A large Oak Lodge reserve of dedicated library-operations tax money has built up since inception of the new library district and tax.
Our current library has been unable to use all the money collected due to prior budget restrictions, as well as the inadequate space and staffing needed for expanded programs and services. These unspent Oak Lodge funds, now a nice chunk of change, are reserved for use when a library sufficient to the needs of our community is built.
We might never have reached this optimistic time had it not been for a change in government in both the county and the city of Gladstone.
Gladstone voter efforts resulted in changes in city leadership, and during the last election campaign for Clackamas County commissioners, candidates challenging the incumbents spoke publicly of their support for the Oak Lodge community having our own library. Those supportive candidates are now our elected officials, orchestrating our library future.
Oak Lodge citizens can now begin to envision a new state-of-the-art library for our community, a beautiful landmark that speaks to our aspirations and is shaped by the newest technology. Set in a landscape that celebrates the area's natural beauty and offering opportunities for outdoor programs and recreational activities for all ages and abilities, a modern new Oak Lodge Library would become the beating heart of our community.
After almost a decade of paying taxes mandated to enhance library services and programs, our library remains woefully insufficient to serve community needs. And, despite paying 26 years worth of our tax dollars specifically for designated parks and recreation, our area remains abominably underserved. A new library surrounded by parklands can redress both these deficiencies of the past.
Envision, if you will, how a new library set amid lovely parklands would become the centerpiece of our community, connecting neighbors via their participation in programs and activities of all kinds and creating a most desirable place to live and be invested.
Indoor and outdoor public meeting spaces of various sizes, absent or in limited supply today, would become available.
Community picnics, outdoor music or theater, library-sponsored events and festivals would all be possible in the surrounding park.
Clackamas County has experience with providing such a library to county residents. They have done it before with great success. In 2010, the county replaced the existing Clackamas Corner Library, a small leased storefront at the north edge of Clackamas Town Center. An unused county building in the heart of now present-day Happy Valley, situated next to a community park, was transformed to become the beautiful airy, open and sunlit Happy Valley Library. This wonderful, modern up-to-date county asset was subsequently given — debt free — to the city of Happy Valley, the wealthiest city in the state.
Additionally, a new Oak Lodge Library would be the only remaining Clackamas County Library. As such, this library — just up McLoughlin from Willamette Falls — should be the place where our county's rich historical legacy would be curated, attracting patrons from throughout the county, state and beyond.
Envisioning this possible future, it is almost easy to forget that it was not so long ago that the future of a library for our community was bleak.
Formerly, the county government was on the verge of approving an unworkable plan under which the Oak Lodge Library would close. Gladstone would provide library services in a new building on Portland Avenue that would also house their city's new City Hall. The exclusive library portion of the combined Gladstone building was actually smaller than the existing Oak Lodge Library. Also, conference meeting space was to be shared with city government. You can imagine how that would work out.
Perhaps most alarming, Oak Lodge library operations funds would have been used to pay for this new construction, a capital expense, which is a direct violation of the voter-mandated intended use as specified by the ballot measure 3-310 which authorized this Library District and tax. The accumulated Oak Lodge library reserves, which represent years and years of programs and services denied to us, were proposed to have been handed over as well. Our taxes would be paid to a city in which we did not live and have no vote. Taxation without representation has a long history of being unpopular in this country, yet this arrangement was close to approval by the county.
Fortunately, the new regime in the county no longer supports this egregious plan, and the future of the Oak Lodge Library and its patrons could possibly be looking up.
I hope that what I am envisioning is not an impossible dream but rather a future much needed and deserved by the citizens of our Oak Lodge community, as well as the people of Gladstone.
Grover Jeffrey Bornefeld is a longtime Oak Lodge citizen activist. At 10 a.m. on Thursday, Clackamas County commissioners are considering a proposed lawsuit settlement with the city of Gladstone that would envision building two libraries, both run by the county.