By Meghan Hall
Deschutes County is embarking on a mission to revamp its library system after more than two decades without updates to its facilities. In November of 2020, the County voted in support of a $195 million library bond measure to expand and reposition a number of libraries across the county. More recently, the County selected The Miller Hull Partnership and Steele Associates as the architecture and design team for the project, formally kicking off a process that will result in a brand new central library and updates to a number of others.
“We are eager to bring to life the voters’ vision of designing and updating library spaces throughout Deschutes County, and The Miller Hull Partnership and Steele Associates are poised to make that vision a reality,” said Library Director Todd Dunkelberg. “Both firms have extensive experience in sustainable design and are steeped in the Pacific Northwest experience. We are excited to work with them as we update and expand Library buildings and services to better serve the people of Deschutes County.”
Previously, the public library had made a promise to taxpayers in 1997 that it would not ask for additional tax revenues for at least ten years. But after more than two decades, the library moved forward with new bond measures in order to finance its expansion. While the population of Deschutes County has grown significantly since the 1990s, public records note that since that time, the Library “has not expanded our buildings even though the population has more than doubled.” The library proposed the bond measure in order to address infrastructure improvements and expansion.
At its core, the new bond will allow for a new Central Library to be constructed on a 12-acre parcel off Highway 20 and Robal Road. The Public Library will purchase the land for $1.35MM. The property has been owned by the Gumpert family since 1948. The library has no debt and is expected to pay for the property in cash.
The central library facility will include about 100,000 square feet of space to serve all Deschutes county residents. Bond funds will also pay for doubling the square footage of the Redmond Library, and the bond will also expand and update other libraries in Downtown Bend, East Bend, La Pine, Sisters and Sunriver.
For locally-based Steele Associates, as well as The Miller Hull Partnership, the project was interesting because the scope of the work covers a number of different spaces and spans both new construction and renovation.
“I think that was definitely one of the things that was exciting to us,” explained The Miller Hull Partnership’s Sian Roberts. “We have at least a 25-year history of working on libraries and it has been everything from essential libraries to library service centers to small renovations; this project was really interesting because it has a little bit of everything rolled into one project.”
However, the project team acknowledges that the purpose and function of libraries has evolved dramatically over the past several decades. Libraries are no longer simply a place to check out books and resources, but can serve as community hubs.
“I think in general, we are all aware of the fact that the role of the library is changing,” said Roberts. “As much as it is a location for resources and books, libraries now have digital content that is available; more libraries are becoming community centers. There are more activities. There are more programs.”
The Deschutes Public Library knows that its facilities are in need of an update; in public documents, the organization states its facilities were built in “pre-wifi” days and are “very traditional” in their current use of space. The project will work to accommodate this evolving purpose, especially in the county’s new central library. According to officials, the library will have a strong program for community events and outreach.
The official designs for the project are still in the works, but the project team is kicking off the process right way. The first step, however, is to garner community feedback about its goals and vision for the libraries.
“The libraries’ perspective designs really need to be about serving the community,” said Roberts. “They need to be reflective of the communities’ goals and aspirations.”
The designs of the libraries are likely to vary, as each library represents a different community and the scope of each project is slightly different. However, Roberts noted that the spaces may have “elements of continuity.” These elements, such as shelving specifications and other library-specific details, will allow for more efficiency in the design process. On the whole, though, the project team expects the projects to stand apart from one another.
“We do not want all of the libraries to feel the same,” said Roberts.
The current preliminary design phase is scheduled to run through the early fall. And, once designs are finalized, it will take several years to build out and reposition the libraries. Regardless, the project team is eager to get started.
“We are starting right away,” said Roberts. “This will be the time those big ideas start to gel.”