When the City of Newcastle, located on the east side of Lake Washington between Bellevue and Renton, incorporated in 1994, there was no library within the new city's boundaries to serve its residents. By 2000, the Newcastle City Council had adopted a Community Business Center (CBC) Plan, which envisioned redefining the city's downtown as a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use district. The opening of the King County Library System's Newcastle Library in 2012 helped advance this goal by providing an anchor for community identity and public space while expanding resident access to library collections and programs. The library has developed specialized learning opportunities and regular programming, including programs for young children and teens, as well as programs geared toward Asian American residents, who accounted for more than a quarter of the city's population as of 2015. With the city continuing to grow in population and new development projects increasing housing density in the downtown area, the library plays a key role as a community gathering space.
Newcastle from Coal Boom to Incorporation
Newcastle is a 4.4-square-mile city located just east of Interstate 405 between Bellevue to the north and Renton to the south. The community's origins date to the 1860s, when coal deposits discovered in the area drew miners and their families. An "old Newcastle" was established as a company town by the Pacific Coast Coal Company in the early 1870s, with a "new Newcastle" developed when coal was discovered at Coal Creek a mile to the east. Newcastle boomed with the discovery, growing to become briefly the second-largest city in King County and hosting an 1880 visit from U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893). The boom did not last; Newcastle's coal production, and its prominence, were declining before the turn of the twentieth century.
Although coal mining in the area continued until 1963, the name "Newcastle" had largely faded long before that. By the 1970s, as suburban development spread on the Eastside of Lake Washington, so did proposals for the unincorporated area between Bellevue and Renton to be annexed to one of those two fast-growing cities, or to incorporate as a city of its own. After several attempts at both annexation and incorporation failed, in 1991 local residents proposed to incorporate an area of some 8 square miles, including what eventually became the city of Newcastle, as the city of Newport Hills -- the name of a residential development and shopping center just north of Newcastle. But residents of the Newport Hills development preferred to join the larger city to the north, and that area was annexed to Bellevue.
Nonetheless, incorporation proponents proceeded and the Newcastle area voted in 1993 to incorporate (effective September 30, 1994) -- as the "City of Newport Hills." With a neighborhood of the same name in Bellevue it became clear that the new city needed a different name, and its leaders reached back into history, placing a measure on the November 1994 ballot asking city voters to approve a change to the original name Newcastle, which they did.
Joining the King County Library System
In the same November 1994 election, Newcastle voters also voted overwhelmingly -- with 93 percent in favor -- to annex into the King County Library System (KCLS). Rather than having to rely entirely on its own local revenue to fund, build, and operate a library, the new city would join the countywide library system supported by a much-larger revenue base, and have access to far more materials than any single library could hold. Until a library was be built in the city, residents who wanted to access library books and services could visit other KCLS libraries, the closest being the Newport Way Library to the northeast or the Fairwood Library to the southeast.
An effort to redefine the new city's downtown core was begun in 1997, with the completion of the city's first Comprehensive Plan that year. Subsequent measures to create a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly city center with a core of public buildings and community space included adoption of the City of Newcastle Community Business Center/Lake Boren Corridor Master Plan on April 27, 2000, and the Economic Strategic Development Plan on August 2, 2005. The latter plan called for "establishing a Newcastle Civic Complex to support multiple uses, including a KCLS library, City Hall and parking" ("Newcastle Library 2005 Community Study," 5).
Like many cities in Western Washington, Newcastle experienced a population boom in the early years of the twenty-first century, with little sign of slowing down. In the 2000 census, Newcastle had a population of 7,737 residents. In the decade that followed this grew to 10,368, and by mid 2015, the number had swelled to an estimated 11,370. Given the need for a local library to serve this growing city population, and the city's vision of a redefined downtown core with restaurants, retail, parks, and public spaces for pedestrian accessibility, KCLS included funding for Newcastle's first-ever library, along with replacement buildings, expansions, or renovations for many existing county libraries, in a $172 million capital bond approved by King County voters in 2004.
Vision for New Library Takes Shape
One of the first challenges for the Newcastle Library was finding a suitable location to build it. In spite of the city's desire to include the library as part of a new downtown civic center complex, a site was instead selected on the corner of 129th Avenue SE and Newcastle Way. This location was seen as ideal for commuters as well as residents, being just one block west of Coal Creek Parkway SE, the major arterial that runs north-south through the city.
The new library was also positioned to serve an expanding population of primary and secondary students. Parts of both the Renton and Issaquah school districts were in the library's service area, and those districts were growing, as evidenced by Renton's construction of a new middle school to open in the fall of 2016.
Craig Cooper, a former principal at McKnight Middle School and the "Planning Principal" for the new middle school, gave KCLS staff valuable feedback on students as a future stakeholder group:
"Of the students, he said that they enjoy literature if it's enticing. They enjoy author visits, they play Minecraft and a variety of games, and it seems that every student has a cell phone no matter their socioeconomic status. Around 50% of students are likely going to be on the free/reduced lunch program. They are also very diverse, which presents a challenge for staff when considering methods to engage students with relevant information and activities" ("Newcastle Community Discovery Report 2015," 9).
As planning for the new library took shape, KCLS staff looked to many sources within the community for guidance in what resources and services would be important for local residents. Groups such as Weed Warriors, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, and the Coal Creek YMCA offered suggestions as to how the library could become a new community gathering place.
Community Space for a Mobile Population
On October 20, 2010, KCLS held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Newcastle Library. The firm Mithun Architects was hired to design the library, with Synergy Construction tasked with building it. Under the direction of architect Bill LaPatra (b. 1957), the new library incorporated features that addressed several key goals shared by KCLS and the Newcastle community: to provide inviting, integrated space for the public to gather; to serve visitors using a variety of transportation options; and to use clean-energy systems and materials in its design.
An exterior plaza in front of the main entrance was expanded from a 2009 preliminary drawing, so that the final version was larger, uniformly square, and equipped with illuminated benches. In the library's interior, a children's room, a teen area, and a conference room all served as dedicated spaces for meeting or access to collections geared toward the different age groups.
The library's location near Coal Creek Parkway recognized the need to serve automobile commuters as well as visitors arriving by bike or bus. The new library offered a below-grade parking garage and a series of bicycle racks, and its front door was just steps from the bus stop on Newcastle Way. Indoors, the main Reading Room provided floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the building to let in natural light. Sustainable energy features included a geothermal-well heating and cooling system, radiant-heat floors, low-flow bathroom fixtures for water conservation, a 100,000-gallon storm water cistern, and a green sedum roof to reduce stormwater runoff.
Serving a Diverse Community
On December 8, 2012, the Newcastle Library opened its doors to the public. Its collection offered more than 40,000 items ranging from books and music DVDs to magazines and eBooks. In the words of the architects, it was a design based from the start on the concept of "a community celebration of knowledge" ("Delivering on a Promise to Voters," 19). In 2013 -- its first full year of operation -- the Newcastle Library circulated 408,676 items. In that same year, the American Institute of Architects, Washington Council, awarded a Civic Design Merit Award for the new library's design.
The Newcastle Library enjoyed widespread use from the start, especially by younger children and families, with Story Time programs for various age ranges, including "Young Toddlers," "Toddlers," and "Preschool," along with Evening Family Story Times for those with schedule conflicts during daytime hours and World Language Story Times for children speaking languages other than English at home. Stories read in Chinese by Chinese speakers were especially popular. Indeed, a growing demand for Chinese-language programs reflected how the Newcastle Library had become a gathering place for the area's Asian American community. As of 2016, half of the 72,000 people of Chinese descent living in the Puget Sound area lived within two miles of Newcastle, according to a KCLS study ("Newcastle Community Discovery Report 2015," 24-25).
In contrast to the very high use by families with young children, a study by KCLS staff in 2015 revealed that other demographic groups such as teens and older adults had lower attendance rates. In response, the library supplemented the Story Time offerings with other programs aimed at older children, such as Summer Reading and Reading Buddies peer tutoring; created a college-prep program to engage teen students and their parents; and offered computer as well as eBook classes for adults. As another means of community outreach, the library also continued to partner with the YMCA and the City of Newcastle on the collaborative Newcastle Youth Community Engagement (NYCE) program.
The addition of two retirement-community development projects in 2016 (including a 98-unit apartment complex for seniors located behind the library) continued to mark the growth of Newcastle and its challenges for managing new development projects to accommodate a growing population. The library's goal to increase patronage by local senior citizens became all the more imperative given the addition of these new resident communities.
The library also helped fulfill city planners' vision to remake the downtown area as pedestrian friendly. A city review in 2016, while recognizing that this goal had not yet been fully realized, noted the library's contribution toward achieving it:
"In general, Downtown Newcastle lacks both the amount and quality of public spaces required to support the CBC Plan vision. The Downtown is auto-dominated, lacks a cohesive street grid, supports high traffic speeds ... and lacks appropriate buffers along sidewalks ... . The Downtown does not have general public parking on or off-street, a public park, plaza, or gathering space. ... City Hall and the ... Library are strong Downtown anchors and provide community spaces both inside and outside" ("Newcastle Community Business Center Assessment," 23).
The Newcastle Library continues to serve as an important community center for residents as their city addresses the challenges of growth management, identity, and sense of place in the Pacific Northwest.