by Marcus Harrison Green
Not even a heavy downpour could spoil the mood at the grand opening of Skyway’s new library.
On Saturday morning, more than a thousand Skyway residents braved steady rains to assemble on the corner of 76th and Renton Avenue for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new 8000 square foot building.
After more than a year of anticipation, it was going to take more than inclement weather to keep most away.
“I’ve lived in this community since I was born. This is something that’s truly memorable and I wanted to be a part of it,” said 20 year-old Kahdijah Jackson, holding an umbrella and purposely wearing bluish-purple nail polish that coordinated with the vibrant color of the new library.
As attendees packed the library’s plaza, listening to the Campbell Hill Elementary Choir prior to its opening, many were impressed by the huge turnout, including Pat Daugherty who drove all the way from her home near the University District to witness the opening.
“I’m just delighted to see so many people from all walks of life coming together here,” said Daugherty, whose mother Muriel served as a librarian at Skyway’s old library from the early 80’s to the early 90’s.
That 5200 square foot brick building, located just a block away from the new library, operated as the Skyway Library since 1970. However, the building’s days became numbered in 2004, when King County voters passed a bond measure financing the construction and renovation of 48 libraries within the county, including Skyway’s.
While the building that used to house the library will soon be converted into a church by its new owners, the designer of the Skyway library’s current home couldn’t be prouder of his work.
“I’m so excited! We’ve been working on this building for about four years. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve done as an architect,” said Matt Aalfs of Weistein A+U, the library’s lead designer.
Aalfs, who’s worked as an architect for more than 20 years, says he wanted the building to evoke a sense of fun and uniqueness in Skyway’s community members. For this reason, he decided to shape the library in the form of a triangle, with something essential at each corner: a main entry, a community meeting room and a social gathering space.
He also chose the buildings blue-purplish color to mimic the hue of the sky right before, and after dusk.
For an area currently lacking a central hub where neighbors can frequently meet face to face, the idea of a library as a tool for community building was reiterated several times in speeches from King County officials, just before doors officially opened.
“At its core the library has not changed. It has been a place to explore, build community, and expand the horizons of young and old alike,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a brief speech during the ceremony.
The executive’s remarks were followed by those of 37th District State Senator, and newly announced congressional candidate, Pramila Jayapal, who brought along five copies of her memoir Pilgrimage: One Woman’s Return to a Changing India to donate to the new library.
“When I was down here (campaigning) last year, residents talked about the meaning of a library within a community. It’s not just about the books available, but also about the space available. It’s about the idea that we have community here in the library. That things happen here that people don’t have time for or space for in their own homes,” she said.
Soon after, local children joined Aalfs, Constantine, Jayapal, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, King County Library System Board President Rob Spitzer and Theresa McLean, President of Friends of the Skyway Library, to cut a large red ribbon planted on the library’s front doors, signifying it was ready for business.
The crowd immediately flooded in, many marveled at the vast collection of books, almost 60,000. Others crammed into the new community meeting room, where musical performances and poetry readings will soon take place. Some gathered around the giant study table made from the tail wing of a Boeing airplane.
In addition, the library includes tiny meeting rooms, more than a dozen computers and dedicated spaces for youth. It will offer services such as multilingual tax assistance and employment help. Its parking lot will also serve as a site for farmers’ markets and festivals.
And even as elated residents swelled the library’s walls, the current realities of the area remained with some.
“Skyway’s been neglected for too long by King County and this is a big step forward by the King County Library System to help fulfill the community’s vision,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.
But the story of the day remained the amount of support the new building garnered from the community.
“The turnout today is an inspiration, quite honestly,” said Fred Gurney, the library’s services manager, while attempting to handle the overwhelming inflow of patrons.
“For all these people to be here despite the pouring rain, it gives you an indication of how dedicated this community is to its library. I can’t say enough good things about Skyway. It’s amazing,” he added.