Ridgefield library

Ridgefield Community Librarian Sean McGill checks in books.

Excitement is building among those involved with the Ridgefield Community Library. After years of searching for a potential new location to expand, the powers that be have approved moving forward with a spot familiar to all who use the current facilities.

On May 21 the Fort Vancouver Regional Library board voted to accept a donation from the Ridgefield Community Center to the library district, allowing for the library to eventually expand into the whole building. Currently, the library only occupies a portion of the roughly 8,000-square-foot structure.

The finer points about what the donation would entail are still being worked out. In an email late last month, community center board member Carla Bonebrake said specifics weren’t available at that time.

While the community center board comes up with the final donation, those who have been pushing for a new library for years are getting excited.

“It’s a relief, a huge relief,” Friends of the Library member Jan Robinson remarked. She has been involved with the library for years, being a part of its move into the current location in 1994.

“We have been looking and looking,” Robinson continued, noting that either a site wasn’t available, didn’t suit the needs of a library or was in the wrong location. 

Robinson said that sticking in the same spot more or less meant that the “community” aspect of the library would be intact, noting that currently it serves as an anchor to draw people in to downtown Ridgefield.

“To get a green light, it’s phenomenal,” she said. 

Fellow Friends member and former Ridgefield mayor Tevis Laspa said that the donation of the building would qualify for a matching grant from the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington.

Friends member Kathy Winters provided an update June 8 on her blog, fyi98642.org, saying it was the goal of Fort Vancouver Regional Library and the Ridgefield Community Center to have the donation and some site evaluation work all finalized this summer.

Alongside Laspa, Winters is one of the primary fundraisers for the library. For her, it all started with a personal milestone. In 2015 she began a campaign, “80 for 80” referencing a goal to raise $80,000 for the library by her 80th birthday the following January.

“When I first said I was going to raise $80,000, everyone laughed,” Winters said. That dismissal proved misguided as she was able to raise more than $100,000 by her birthday.

Winters’ update also included the total amount raised through fundraising: the Friends of the Ridgefield Library, the regional library district and its fundraising foundation have nearly $1.3 million set aside for the project. According to Winters, that number combined with matching grants would put the funds raised close to what a remodel of the building could cost.

Winters added that Fort Vancouver Regional Library Executive Director Amelia Shelley told her an additional $800,000 to $1 million would likely be needed for “soft costs” outside of construction.

Though there is still work to be done to secure all the funding needed, Robinson, Laspa and Winters were optimistic that fundraising was just getting started, bolstered by the selection of a location.

Throughout the process, the Friends’ numbers have swelled with a total of 104 currently accounted for ,with varying levels of involvement, Robinson said. 

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have come into this building,” Robinson said, adding that the community may have been fearful of the building going into disrepair.

“We think it’s a credit that everybody is pitching in and doing something,” Laspa said, adding that other than the Friends the community at large has been supportive of their efforts. 

When the library moves into the full space, the city will lose its primary meeting area, but there is a plan in place. City Manager Steve Stuart said that the city and the school district have worked out an agreement to utilize the renovated View Ridge Middle School which will be the site of both council and school board meetings.

It wasn’t just the Friends of the Ridgefield Library getting excited. Ridgefield Community Librarian Sean McGill remarked that the decision brought a bit of deja vu.

“Early on in this process, when things started up, I had a dream that we were still in this building. It looked different, but we were still here,” McGill said. Chief among the prospects that he is excited to see is more space for both activities as well as more quiet space.

As with basically every aspect of Ridgefield, the library is dealing with explosive growth. McGill said that last summer’s biggest program, the Oregon Bird Man, drew 180 kids. 

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