By David Krogh
The Multnomah County Library system is the fourth busiest in the US, but ranks 102nd in terms of floor area square footage. There are 19 branch libraries in the system, in addition to a mobile library. In 2020, a library bond passed allowing $387 million in general obligation bonds to be issued for work on several libraries, including Belmont.
The Belmont Library was publicly funded by community members in 1923 and constructed and opened in 1924. Federal WPA funding in 1937 provided building expansion for a children’s room and staff work areas. During the 1990s, the Belmont Library became the busiest library in the state, in terms of circulations by size. Another expansion occurred in 2000, doubling the size of the existing building. Community discussions commenced regarding design issues in 2023. There is an authorized budget of $26,222,700 for library improvements. Two percent had been spent as of June 30, 2023, as outlined on the Library Bond Oversight Committee report for fiscal year 2023.
Today the Belmont Library has more items on hold than any other county library branch. It averaged 2,300 holds per month in 2023. This is a major reason why the Belmont Library is going through a process to renovate existing space and add additional space.
Bora Architecture and Interiors was selected as the designer by Multnomah County and has already provided plans for discussion. The current plans propose an interior renovation of 3,000 square feet to the existing brick library building. A two-story building addition, totaling 12,000 square feet, will also be constructed on the existing lot to the immediate north of the brick building (where the current parking lot is located). The addition will include a teen lounge and an upstairs reading room, in addition to other amenities. According to Hannah Wallace with the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA), 812 people responded to a survey in August 2023 regarding Belmont Library design and three public workshops have occurred so far. The survey was illustrated at a SNA meeting on January 11, which showed three design options voted on by library patrons. The favorite option received 317 votes and reflects the current draft design according to Bora Architect staff.
The proposed site plan was recently posted on the Belmont project website (multcolib.org/building-libraries-together/belmont), but library staff stress that it is still a draft design and may be subject to change. Katie O’Dell, Deputy Director of the Library Capital Building Projects, said the process is still in the early stages and although no additional public meetings are scheduled as yet, there will be more. The library has a notification list in use and has provided project information to those on the list, and also to library visitors (which is how the surveys were obtained). Outreach staff have also visited groups asking for presentations (such as with the SNA meeting). Liz Sauer, Communications Manager for all of the library’s bond-funded projects, clarified that city permits will be required but haven’t been applied for as yet. These will also trigger public notifications.
The draft site and floor plans illustrated at the January 11 SNA meeting show changes to the parking lot and building access. Building access will still be on the SE Cesar Chavez Blvd. (west) frontage and will be accessible. A wider sidewalk will be provided along SE Cesar Chavez Blvd., with bike parking moved to the interior edge of the sidewalk. Ramps along the SE Taylor St. (south) side will be replaced with landscaping. The parking area to the north will be kept, but reduced in size.
Bike advocates at the January 11 SNA meeting voiced concerns about the bike parking location along the SE Cesar Chavez Blvd. frontage and also asked why there needed to be any car parking. A Bora representative responded that a parking lot was still required for loading purposes and for handicapped parking; library staff clarified that the Walgreens parking lot across the side street is not available for library use. The bike parking will be looked at more closely in case site plan tweaking is required to ensure no impacts on pedestrians.
Bora representatives indicated the current brick building will be renovated entirely for children’s library use. In addition, the new two-story building will include two elevators for second floor access for both patrons and library staff. The current holds area will be expanded and located close inside the library entrance for convenience. The possibility of short-term parking spots will be looked at to facilitate drop off/pick up activities of short duration. The existing library will be closed during construction and activities moved to other branches in SE.
O’Dell indicated that the public may direct questions about the project to email@example.com, 503.988.5123 or through the project website, multcolib.org/building-libraries-together/belmont.
The current library projects chart shows the Belmont Library design work to be completed by mid-2024. Permit issuance, followed by construction are expected by mid-2025 with occupancy by late 2025 to early 2026.
Belmont Library photo by Multnomah County Library.