Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

Josephine Community Library receives financial support for new building, even as it faces controversy

The 65-year-old Grants Pass library has not kept pace with the city's growth; funds from the Cow Creek Band and a bill before the Legislature would help pay to replace it.

|

An artist’s rendering from the 2019 Master Plan for the new Grants Pass library shows an airy, light-filled main lobby. Illustration by: HACKER, courtesy of Josephine Community Library District
An artist’s rendering from the 2019 Master Plan for the new Grants Pass library shows an airy, light-filled main lobby. Illustration by: HACKER, courtesy of Josephine Community Library District

At a time when public libraries nationwide are under fire from individuals and groups pursuing book bans, the Josephine Community Library received two chunks of good news this week – even as it faces a homegrown, financial threat of its own.

During a community celebration that drew nearly 100 people on Monday, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians gave the Josephine Community Library Foundation $250,000 to support building a new library in Grants Pass, which will replace and double the size of the library’s current 65-year-old building.

The money will be used to support the initial architectural and engineering phases of construction, as well as help launch a capital campaign to raise additional funds.

“The tribe is community, and the community is part of the tribe,” Carla Keene, chairman of the Cow Creek Band, told a local television station during Monday’s celebration. “That’s our philosophy. If we help community and the community helps the tribe, we all come out winners and … have a better future.”

In addition, a bill that would allocate $424,603 to the library passed out of a subcommittee of the Oregon Legislature’s Ways and Means committee last week and is expected to have a hearing in the full Ways and Means Committee in the coming weeks.

House Bill 4124 would allocate more than $27 million to the Oregon Business Development Department, which would then distribute the money to arts and cultural organizations throughout the state. (Oregon ArtsWatch recently reported on the legislation.) 

Bigger ticket items include $2.5 million for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, nearly $1 million for the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, and $379,750 for the High Desert Museum. Many of the proposals were originally introduced during the 2023 Legislative session, but that bill died after a 6-week walkout by 10 Republican state senators ground the session to a halt.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

The new 30,000-square-foot Grants Pass library will occupy a downtown city block bounded by Sixth and Seventh and J and K streets. Illustration by: HACKER, courtesy of Josephine Community Library District
The new 30,000-square-foot Grants Pass library will occupy a downtown city block bounded by Sixth and Seventh and J and K streets. Illustration by: HACKER, courtesy of Josephine Community Library District

The $424,603 slated for the Josephine County Library is an award from the Cultural Resource Economic Fund, an arm of the Oregon Arts Commission that supports capital construction projects of nonprofit cultural organizations, including new construction, expansions, and renovations.

The money would pay for the initial phases of planning the new library, including initial architecture drawings and engineering. The total cost for construction is estimated to be $26 million.  

The new library will be a 30,000-square-foot, two-story building in downtown Grants Pass. Last June, the Josephine Community Library Foundation purchased an entire city block in downtown for $1.9 million, all of which was raised through private donations and grant support from foundations (which is becoming an increasingly important source of funding for public libraries).

A 2019 Master Plan shows an airy, light-filled space with indoor and outdoor reading areas, dedicated spaces for children, teens, a technology area, and multiple meeting room spaces.

Since 2000, Grants Pass’ population has increased from approximately 30,000 people to 40,000 people.

Kate Lasky, director of the Josephine Community Library District, said Grants Pass’ current library has not kept up with the population increase or in changes and demand for technology. 

The children’s area has only one electrical outlet. Patrons browsing books must step over kids and parents attending children’s story times, which draw 25 to 50 people, because the room becomes so crowded. The library’s dedicated room for meetings is in demand, with community organizations often competing to use it.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

The 2019 Master Plan calls for a building bordering a public plaza, with dedicated space for children, teens, media, and meetings. Last June, the Josephine Community Library Foundation purchased an entire city block in downtown for $1.9 million, all of which was raised through private donations and grant support from foundations. Illustration by: HACKER, courtesy of Josephine Community Library District

Lasky said the plans and architectural drawings will be updated. When the Master Plan was developed in 2019, power lines owned by Pacific Power prevented construction. Since then, Lasky said, Pacific Power has agreed to move its power lines so that the entire block is available for construction.

Next month, the library expects to select an architect, and community meetings to gather input for the library’s design are expected to begin this summer.

The Josephine Community Library is on a building spree: Last summer, ground broke to build a new library in Williams, and renovation of the library’s Illinois Valley branch, in Cave Junction, starts in a couple of weeks. The library’s foundation raised a total of $5 million for both projects.

Yet the two chunks of money are coming at a time when the rural library is facing a controversy so dire that the library has taken the issue to court.

Last December, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to allow a homeowner to leave the library’s local tax district, an unprecedented and legally untested move in Oregon.

In 2017, Josephine County residents approved creating a special tax district to fund the library. Property owners living in Illinois Valley, Williams, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass, and Cave Junction are taxed 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Proponents of the “opt out” proposal are using an obscure state law that allows property owners, through an application process, to leave a tax district if the owners can prove it is not feasible to receive the services funded by the tax district.

Sponsor

Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Last month, a Josephine County Circuit Court judge issued a cease-and-desist order stopping the petition from moving forward while she reviews the legality of the county commissioners’ vote to approve the petition.

Republican Dwayne Yunker, Josephine County’s state representative, was the only member of the Ways and Means subcommittee who voted no on HB 4124.

Before the vote, he challenged the premise of the bill, which is to inject funds into arts and cultural organizations that lost revenue and are still financially recovering from the COVID-19 shutdown. “I don’t think that’s why some of these places are losing funds,” he said. “I think they are losing funds for bad business decisions that are driving consumers away.”

He did not elaborate, and it was not clear whether he was specifically talking about Josephine County’s library district.

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

Amanda Waldroupe is a freelance journalist and writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, Bklyner, The Brooklyn Rail, InvestigateWest, The Oregonian, the Portland Tribune, Oregon Humanities, and many others. She has been a fellow and writer-in-residence at the Logan Nonfiction Program, the Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism program, Alderworks Alaska, and the Sou’wester Artist Residency Program.
SHARE:
CMNW Council
Blueprint Arts Carmen Sandiego
Seattle Opera Barber of Seville
Stumptown Stages Legally Blonde
Corrib Hole in Ground
Kalakendra May 3
Portland Opera Puccini
Cascadia Composers May the Fourth
Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante
OCCA Monthly
NW Dance Project
Oregon Repertory Singers Finding Light
PPH Passing Strange
Maryhill Museum of Art
PSU College of the Arts
Bonnie Bronson Fellow Wendy Red Star
Pacific Maritime HC Prosperity
PAM 12 Month
High Desert Sasquatch
Oregon Cultural Trust
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.