The Library Debacle is the New Mirror Pond | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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The Library Debacle is the New Mirror Pond 

OPINION

Picture this: A city gets nearly $200 million in bond funds. Two years after the vote that ushered it in, little has been accomplished. There's no solid location for the project in question. The people involved in the decision making can't even agree on what the project should be. And so the money sits while taxpayers shell out for something that will take years to come to fruition, if at all.

Using the ample evidence found on social media regarding issues where the City of Bend stumbles, if this were an issue of theirs we were describing, Central Oregonians would be lighting up with ire over a debacle like the one described. People would call for resignations. They'd demand recalls. They'd blame everything on the libs or the far right or whoever represents the opposite of their own political ideology. In short, there would be words.

click image COURTESY DESCHUTES PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Courtesy Deschutes Public Library

But in this case, it's not the City that's embroiled in such a debacle, but the Deschutes County Public Library, and its meandering quest to build a central library. Approximately $195 million in bond funds, approved by voters in 2020, hang in the balance. The library promised to spend these funds on both a central location of approximately 100,000 square feet, plus the expansion of libraries in East Bend, La Pine, Redmond, Sisters and Sunriver.

First, library board members argued—both pre- and post-vote, about whether a central library was the thing to build. Then DPL bought land off Robal Road to build it. Then the City Council said no—a master plan was needed for that area of town before anything could go in. So DPL changed course.

Now, it's announced that the new proposed location is off 27th Street on the east side of Bend—central to no one but the future residents of Bend, who will inevitably gobble up lands and build to the far east. The proposed location is not central for people in La Pine or Redmond or Sisters or Sunriver—all Deschutes County residents too, most of whom at least would not have had to travel far into Bend had the first location been properly vetted and its infrastructure in place. With the new proposed location, we now know what was pretty clear during the library board squabbles: this central library was always going to be in Bend, and mostly for Bendites.

Some readers might be blasé about this. "It's just the library," after all. But the disagreements and missteps on behalf of the library board and its leadership are becoming costly. One might call this a massive disaster with hundreds of millions of taxpayer money hanging in the balance.

Still, Bend is good at this type of protracted teeter-totter when public funds are in question. If you want evidence, just look at the way city leaders and wealthy private landowners have treated Mirror Pond. While that issue has never been put to a formal vote, "whether to dredge, set free or leave Mirror Pond alone," it is a game of Groundhog Day every couple of years. Some eight years ago, a survey showed a slim majority wanting to free the river to its natural state and remove the Newport Dam. Some four years ago, private citizens wanted to muster public funds to dredge. Two years or so ago, the fish passage people piped up. Right now, a fish passage committee is developing recommendations that the City Council can decide to completely toss out if they so desire.

Is this the type of legacy our community wants to be known for?

In a hierarchy of needs, libraries don't represent a threat to life or limb if they're not there. But this costly and unfortunate disaster surrounding funds that voters have already approved should be cause for more concern by county residents than it is currently garnering.

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