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Originally published Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 7:14 PM

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Ruling opens door to replacing Renton’s iconic ‘bridge’ library

Even though a hearing examiner has ruled that the present downtown Renton library has historic value, he says that doesn’t mean its replacement has to have the entrance in the same spot.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The battle may be over, but the passions about the Renton library still smolder.

On Wednesday, Phil Olbrechts, city of Renton hearing examiner, found that the library over the Cedar River has historical value, as a citizens group claimed, but that it doesn’t mean a proposed new library has to have its front door at the same bridge location to preserve the aesthetic experience.

That was the focus of an appeal filed in July by the citizens’ group Save the Cedar River Library Again.

For David Keyes, who led the citizens group, the ruling was disappointing, but, “The right and the significance of citizens to participate in and be heard on important matters affecting our community has been reinforced,’’ he wrote in a statement after the decision.

He would not say if the group would take any other legal action.

For Stuart Avery, who was part of the original save-the-library citizens group, it’s time to move on. Avery championed bringing the new library’s location to a vote last summer but feared that some of the requests — filing an appeal over the location of the door, for example — were putting the entire new library at risk of never being built.

“I’m satisfied with the enormous gains the citizens have made through the process, considering where we started,’’ he said.

In 2010, the city library was annexed to the King County Library System (KCLS) as a means of coping with budget shortfalls that were making it difficult to maintain services, let alone do any upgrades to the aging building.

The Renton City Council approved $20 million for two new libraries in 2011. One will replace the Highlands’ branch, and there has been no controversy regarding it. The council intended to build the downtown Renton branch at a shopping center north of town.

At the time, Avery said, “The city was saying, ‘It’s a done deal. We’re moving the library; it’s going to happen.’”

But a year later, citizens voted to build the new library at the present site, and not at the shopping center.

All was going well, it seemed, until the city in the land-use application a few months ago determined the existing building had no historical significance — fighting words for the citizens group. They filed an appeal, which they now lost.

Mayor Denis Law acknowledged that what the city didn’t do well initially was get public input on location. But he’s hoping the citizens can now get behind building the library.

All the delays cost taxpayers money, he said. “How much is it costing taxpayers to litigate where the door will go?”

For KCLS Library Director Bill Ptacek, the next step is moving forward with the construction plans.

“We keep working on the design and begin construction next year. Construction costs keep going up,’’ he said.

And the original building, which has housed the library since 1966, continues to age.

“The building is falling apart,’’ Ptacek said. “Keeping it is not an option.”

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522

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