New $3.2 million Kent Library is dedicated on October 12, 1991.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 5/24/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11232

On October 12, 1991, the new $3.2 million Kent Regional Library (as it is then known) is formally dedicated. It is a joint project of the city of Kent and the King County Library System (KCLS). The previous library, built in 1973, had become too small for Kent's surging population. The new 22,500-square-foot building is on a new downtown site at First and Smith streets, formerly occupied by the Sea-Kent Cold Storage plant. Frozen ground has delayed construction. The new library opened its doors on September 23, 1991, three weeks before the formal dedication ceremony. The ceremony includes music, a theatrical performance, and remarks by Kent and KCLS officials. Two new artworks are unveiled. The Kent Library will be extensively renovated in 2010.

"A Star Attraction"

The library opened in 1991 was the fifth building to house the Kent Library since its inception in 1920. The spacious new building was first proposed in 1987, when the city and KCLS made the decision to "jointly build a new library" ("Kent Regional Library Community Study"). The existing library site, next to Kent City Hall, was deemed inadequate to house the new building. Officials chose a new site where the Sea-Kent Cold Storage plant had stood for decades. Kent Mayor Dan Kelleher took a ceremonial sledgehammer to the old plant in a groundbreaking ceremony on October 20, 1988.

City officials promised that the new library would "be a star attraction in the downtown area" ("New Library Ground-Breaking ..."). The work took three years to complete, mainly because the old plant had been, essentially, a giant freezer. Construction crews discovered that ground was frozen up to 24 feet deep in some places and they had to drill holes into rock-hard soil to allow ground water to seep in and slowly thaw the ground. According to an essay in the dedication program, "Project staff quickly became permafrost experts ... Pilings were driven more than 30 feet into the ground to secure a firm foundation" ("Celebrate ...").

"To complicate matters, diesel fuel and fuel oil were found in the soil," said the program ("Celebrate ..."). Construction of the $3.2 million library finally began in July 1990 under the supervision of general contractor Eberharter Construction and the architectural firm of Henry Klein Partnership. Construction was finished in September 1991 and the doors opened on September 23, 1991.

The dedication essay described several of the special features of the new building:

"The skylights beckon library users. The trellis walkway guides them to the entry. And the rounded, bricked walls absorb the sounds of traffic and quiet the rumblings of the trains nearby. The library was designed to appeal to the senses of a young child entering for the first time, as well as enhance the downtown area and contribute to the community's quality of life. The brick on the building represents the tradition of books, while the glass and metal in the skylights speak to the new information technologies available within the library's walls. The new 22,500 square foot building is half again as large as the former library near City Hall" ("Celebrate ...").

Dedication Festivities

The October 12, 1991, dedication ceremony featured entertainment by Deano the Clown and the music of the Kent Brass Ensemble. The students of Meridian Junior High School created a time capsule. A local theater troupe called Book It! performed a stage version of the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. short story "A Long Walk to Forever."

The festivities also featured the unveiling of two artworks. One was Sentinel Kent, a sculpture by Valdis Zarins, which "stands watch over passers-by" ("Kent Regional Library Community Study"). The second was Early Morning Milk, a painting by Danny Pierce, which depicted Kent's early agricultural era. A number of officials delivered remarks, including Kent Mayor Dan Kelleher and Peter Hiatt, president of the KCLS Board of Trustees. The library was dedicated as the Kent Regional Library, but the word "regional" was later dropped for this and other large KCLS libraries.

Since 1959, Kent had contracted with KCLS to operate the library and jointly own it. In 1993, two years after the new library building was opened, Kent voters approved formal annexation to the King County Library System, which meant that the Kent Library finally became fully integrated into the county library system.


Sources:

"Kent Regional Library Community Study," September 2003, King County Library System website accessed May 24, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Kent%20Regional%20Community%20Study.pdf); "History," King County Library System website accessed May 11, 2016 (http://kcls.org/history/); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker) and "Kent Library, King County Library System" (by Jim Kershner), http//www.historylink.org (accessed May 24, 2016); "New Library Ground-Breaking Ceremony Set," Valley Daily News, October 20, 1988; "Celebrate the Opening of the Kent Regional Library!" program for Kent Regional Library dedication, October 12, 1991, in the collection of Kent Library, Kent, Washington.


Related Topics:   Buildings | Education | King County Library System

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