Kyle Cox said libraries were magical places for him when he was a child. He now hopes a new library in west Pasco will do the same for local children and their families.
Mid-Columbia Libraries will open its 13th branch Saturday after spending the past year designing and building it on the corner of Wrigley Drive and Road 76. It will be the library district's first new facility in seven years and the second one to open in Pasco.
The new branch provided a rare opportunity to design it from the ground up, meaning library officials could tailor it to community needs -- be it toadstools for children to sit on while reading beneath a giant tree or a drive-through window for families on the go.
"Any opportunity we have to instill the sense of wonder or learning, the better to get kids in love with reading," said Cox, the library district's executive director.
The library district's board has looked at building a branch in west Pasco since 2010. They will lease it from a developer for the next 10 years for about $1.1 million. More than $500,000 went into furnishing the space and buying all the books and other materials to fill its shelves.
In many ways, the new library is similar to most of the other branches in the system, which stretches from the Tri-Cities all the way out to Prosser, Kahlotus and Othello, officials said. Its 6,200 square feet of space contains a large children's reading area, a bank of computers for internet access, and comfortable seating for adults wanting to take a moment with a book or magazine.
But a lot of creativity and innovation went into the building, particularly when it came to interior design. The library district gave Ares Corporation in Richland $93,000 to design and install art in the space. Three artificial trees -- a large one in the children's area and two smaller ones among the non-fiction books -- stand out immediately. Another tree is painted on the building's west wall, with books and quotes from authors appearing to be blown from its branches in a strong wind.
There also is the giant toadstool with a caterpillar reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in the children's area, along with scattered toadstool seats below books appearing to fly through the air.
The idea was to give a sense of whimsy and enchantment, Cox said. His children gave the stamp of approval as it was built over the last few months.
"It's a wonderful experience for me as a dad to hear them want to come here despite how much they've been here," he said.
Diana Williams of Pasco is one of the artists who worked on the library, specifically when it came to the flying books in the children's area. She praised Cox's vision for the project and said she couldn't be happier with the finished product.
"I walked in for the first time with all the books (on the shelves) and I just about cried," she said.
Appearances aren't everything, though. Library spokeswoman Jennifer Aalgaard said the library will pilot an inter-filing system with its non-fiction books and other materials. That means items such as documentaries will be filed alongside non-fiction books on the same subjects, making it easier for patrons to find information on a topic as easily as possible.
New technology will aid visitors and employees, from adjusting countertops at the checkout desk to tablet computers that will allow employees to more easily find books while working amongst the shelves, said Kate Holloway, the library district's marketing director.
Library officials are particularly excited about the new branch's drive-through window. Surveys of area residents indicated they wanted the library to be convenient. They'll be able to drop off borrowed materials and pick them up without leaving their vehicles. A large TV monitor along the drive-through lane will promote library events and news.
The library district has managed its finances well enough to open the new branch in an era when many library districts are just trying to maintain their budgets and a few are having to cut services and close branches, Cox said. Now it's just a matter of opening the doors for people to take advantage of it.
"I'm excited to see people's faces when they walk in," he said.