Federal Way Library, King County Library System

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 6/08/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20378

The Federal Way Library in southwest King County is the second-largest library in the King County Library System (KCLS). Located at 34200 1st Way S in Federal Way, it opened in December 1991. It was busy from the start, drawing users from all across Federal Way and even from Tacoma and other areas in nearby northern Pierce County. In less than 20 years, the library outgrew its 25,000-square-foot space. It was renovated and expanded in 2010, adding nearly 10,000 square feet. Along with the smaller Federal Way 320th Library, the Federal Way Library continues to serve one of the county's fastest-growing cities.

A Little Federal Way History and Its Name

The city of Federal Way is located about 20 miles south of Seattle in the southwest corner of King County. It projects westward into Puget Sound, with the Sound bordering it on the northwest and Pierce County on the southwest. The city of Des Moines lies to the north, and Kent, Auburn, and Algona to the east. The Muckleshoot Indians, who lived to the east in the valleys of the White and Green rivers, traveled through the Federal Way area to the beaches along Puget Sound.

Loggers were the first non-Indian settlers in the area that became Federal Way. During the years between 1871 and 1895, an estimated 45 homesteaders filed claims in the Federal Way area. Sam Stone was the first homesteader in the Stone Landing (Redondo) area in 1871. During the years between 1884 and 1909, the five small communities of Stone Landing (Redondo), Star Lake, Adelaide/Buena, Steel Lake, and North Edgewood -- which roughly encompassed what would become Federal Way (although the Redondo area was ultimately annexed into Des Moines) -- formed local school districts to provide education for the children in the area. North Edgewood School District 42 formed in 1884, Adelaide School District 55 in 1887, Star Lake School District 64 in 1888, Steel Lake School District 92 in 1891, and Redondo School District 92 in 1909. Each district served around 25 to 50 students.

On May 22, 1929, the school districts were consolidated into one, which was designated Federal Way School District 210, using a new name for the area that derived from the federally funded U.S. Highway 99, which passed through the area as it made its way from the Oregon border at Vancouver to the Canadian border at Blaine:

"The name 'Federal Way' was first used in 1929 to describe the area surrounding the Federal Way School, which derived its name from the fact it was located on 'the Federal Highway', aka Federal Way Highway 99, in the same location as today's Federal Way High School. 'Federal Way' became commonly used to describe the general area" (Meador email).

Need for a Second Library

The first library in Federal Way opened in 1944 in the old Steel Lake Elementary School building. It moved to three other buildings over the years and then, in 1970, it opened in a new brick building on S 320th Street, becoming the Federal Way 320th Library. Five years later that library was destroyed by arson. It was renovated and reopened a year later. When the 1975 fire destroyed Federal Way's only library, residents requested a larger facility to serve their growing community. But while the library was rebuilt in 1976, it was not expanded beyond its previous size. During the 1980s, the Federal Way area continued to grow and develop at a rapid rate. Library services were in high demand and the Federal Way 320th Library struggled to keep pace. KCLS began making plans for a large new library in the area, both "because the area population justified it and the System wanted to have a regional library to the south end of the library district" (McMullen email).

KCLS placed a $67 million bond issue before voters on the September 20, 1988, ballot. The proposal included funding for a new state-of-the-art library to serve the Federal Way community. The existing Federal Way 320th Library had by then outgrown its building and was simply too small for the number of people using it. The bond measure was approved by voters across the county, including those in the then still-unincorporated Federal Way area.

The area's status changed before library construction got underway. In March 1989, area residents voted to incorporate the city of Federal Way. On February 6, 1990, a few weeks before the incorporation took effect, they voted to annex their library to the King County Library System.

A Welcome Gift

Groundbreaking for the new library took place on February 23, 1991. Officials at the groundbreaking ceremony included Federal Way's first mayor, Debbie Ertel Burris, and former state representative Maryanne Mitchell (1933-2002). Construction work began on March 1, 1991, and the work was completed on schedule by the end of the year. The library was the first commercial building constructed from start to finish under the new city of Federal Way's permit process.

A welcome holiday gift, the new Federal Way Regional Library opened on Saturday, December 28, 1991. The $3.6 million, 25,000-square-foot library was located about two miles south of the Federal Way 320th Library at 34200 1st Way S, just north of Panther Lake Elementary School. An official dedication ceremony was held on Saturday, February 1, 1992, before a crowd of 600.

Many visitors noted the library's striking appearance. The building was a perfect square, and its facade incorporated a variety of geometric elements, including squares, circles, and triangles, arranged to harmonize the overall design. On one side, a giant red-rimmed triangular window looked out over the driveway. A circular green-rimmed clock, eight feet in diameter, was located above the triangle. The building's geometry was primarily functional, with large triangular windows allowing more light on the north side, and smaller windows placed on the west-facing side

Initially the library held 100,000 books and other items, and it had space for another 100,000. The Federal Way Library was the second of five regional libraries built by KCLS. At the time it opened, its 25,000 square feet made it the largest of the 37 libraries then part of KCLS; it was surpassed when the 80,000-square-foot Bellevue Library opened in 1993.

Expanding a Busy Library

The Federal Way Library was busy from the start. Students flocked there after school to do their homework. Located near King County's southern boundary, the large new library drew significant numbers of users from Tacoma and other portions of northern Pierce County, in addition to patrons from all parts of Federal Way. Over the next 15 years the building benefited from a number of upgrades and remodels. By 2005 it had 30 public-access computers as well as wireless Internet access. Book-display areas and study-table space were increased and a vending-machine/café area was added.

As Federal Way's population -- and use of both the city's libraries -- continued to grow, further expansion was needed. A $172 million library capital bond measure approved by King County voters in 2004 included funding to expand the Federal Way Library by nearly 10,000 square feet and to replace the existing Federal Way 320th Library with a new building on the same site.

The expansion and renovation of the Federal Way Library was undertaken first. The firm of Mithun Architects prepared the designs and contractor Kirtley-Cole did the construction work. The $7.8 million project was completed in June 2010. It increased the library by 9,500 square feet to a total of 34,500, making it again the second-largest library in the King County Library System. New skylights and movable interior glass panels were added, which made the surrounding stand of mature evergreen trees more visible to patrons inside the building. A newly installed rain garden also added to the view through the windows.

Among the additions to the library were a new Children's Area, meeting room, conference room, and several study rooms. More computers were installed, and nearly 20,000 books, periodicals, DVDs, and CDs were added to the collection, bringing the total to more than 200,000 items.

The innovative renovation was honored with a number of building awards, including two from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Washington Council. At the AIA Washington Civic Awards Ceremony on May 19, 2011, the Federal Way Library was one of four to win the 2011 Civic Design Merit Award. It then became the only library to win multiple awards when it also received the 2011 Civic Design "People's Choice Award," which was the first People's Choice Award that the AIA had given.

The award-winning expansion allowed the Federal Way Library to remain what it has been since its opening more than 25 years ago -- one of the busiest libraries in the King County Library System, providing quality service to the ever-growing and increasingly diverse population of Federal Way and surrounding areas. The library also supports many organizations, businesses, and professional agencies in its service area. Every day that the library is open, visitors from all walks of life come through the doors to use meeting rooms, internet services, reference materials, and computers; to borrow books, movies, music CDs, and other items; to attend workshops and programs for children, teens, or adults; and to simply enjoy the sense of community in the library.


"About Federal Way Library," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed January 23, 2017 (https://kcls.org/about-federal-way-library/); "History," KCLS website accessed January 26, 2017 (http://kcls.org/history/); "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11 Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed February 2, 2017 (https://w3.kcls.org/pdf/11_year_report.pdf); "Engage: Federal Way Libraries 2006 Community Study," KCLS website accessed February 3, 2017 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Federal%20Way%20Libraries%20Community%20Study.pdf); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Federal Way -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), "King County -- Thumbnail History" (by Priscilla Long), and "City of Federal Way incorporates on February 28, 1990" (by Kit Oldham) http://www.historylink.org (accessed January 12, 2017); "Historical Society of Federal Way Time Line," Historical Society of Federal Way website accessed January 22, 2017 (http://federalwayhistory.org/powercms/files/TimeLineNov142015.pdf); Dick Caster, "Federal Shopping Way," Historical Society of Federal Way website accessed January 28, 2017 (http://www.federalwayhistory.org/pdf/FShoppingW.pdf); Elaine Porterfield, "School Land New Library Site," The News Tribune, October 11, 1989, p. A-1; "New Library in Federal Way Opens Dec. 28," The News Tribune, December 11, 1991, p. B-1; L. A. Johnson, "King County to Expand Federal Way Library," The Federal Way News, January 14, 1988, p. A-1; "County Will Decide on New Local Library," The Federal Way News, January 20, 1988, p. A-1; "Library Bond Headed for Fall Election," The Federal Way News, February 12, 1988, p. B-1; "Architects to Show New Library Plans," The Federal Way News, April 13, 1990, p. B-4; Wendy Culverwell, "Library May Open by Christmas 1991," The Federal Way News, April 27, 1990; p. A-1; Wendy Culverwell, "Site Selected for Area's Third Library," The Federal Way News, March 15, 1991, p. B-1; Wendy Culverwell, "Ground will Break for New Library," The Federal Way News, February 22, 1991, p. B-3; "New Library to Open to Public on Dec. 28," The Federal Way News, December 15, 1991, p. A-3; Wendy Culverwell, "Thousands of New Books, Videos and CDs Are Ready to Be Checked Out!," The Federal Way News, December 27, 1991, p. A-1; "New Library Isn't Just for Bookworms," The Federal Way News, January 1, 1992, p. A-2; Wendy Culverwell, "New Library Gaining Fans Fast," The Federal Way News, January 5, 1992, p. A-5; "Read All About It," The Federal Way City Herald, December 22, 1991, p. A-8; John Sheller, "Update on FW Library Expansion," The Federal Way Mirror, January 30, 2008, p. A-5; "Federal Way Regional Library Open House and Dedication February 1," The King County Library System News, February 1992, p. 1; "Federal Way Library Site, Architect Selected," King County Library System (KCLS), December 1989, in Folder 1, Library, Federal Way Regional 1980-1989, Box 1 (no name), Historical Society of Federal Way, Federal Way, Washington; "New Library Opens in Federal Way," KCLS, December 1991, "Celebrate the Opening of the New Federal Way Regional Library," dedication program, February 1, 1992, and "Federal Way Libraries Service Needs Assessment," KCLS, November 1996, in Folder 2, Library, Federal Regional 1990-1999, Box 1, (no name), Historical Society of Federal Way; Susan B. Bronkhorst to Bill Gates, January 23, 1992; and J. R. and Mary L. Harman to Paul Barden, February 5, 1992, in Folder 1, Federal Way Library -- History & Photos, Box 1, Workroom Cart, Federal Way Library, Federal Way, Washington; Federal Way (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 7-9, 37, 41, 88-89, 91; Donna McMillen (Federal Way Library), email to Linda Holden Givens, March 13, 2017, in possession of Linda Holden Givens, Auburn, Washington.

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