A bigger Burien Library opens, in a new building shared with City Hall, on June 13, 2009.

  • By Glenn Drosendahl
  • Posted 9/08/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20114

On June 13, 2009, a new Burien Library officially opens as part of Burien Town Square, a public-private development intended to revitalize the city's downtown core. The library shares a three-story building with Burien City Hall, part of a $193 million project called Burien Town Square. Funds for the library portion of the project -- about $18 million -- come from a $172 million King County Library System (KCLS) bond issue passed by voters in 2004.

A Boon for Burien

Downtown Burien had suffered commercially since 1968 when Southcenter Mall opened in nearby Tukwila. Even though Burien's population grew by about a third in the next 20 years (to about 32,000), downtown was struggling due to a shortage of shoppers. Part of the problem was that 10 acres had been cleared in the 1960s, with the hope that the mall would be built there. When it wasn't, Burien was left with what Mayor Joan McGilton called "a sea of asphalt" ("New Burien Square Built ...").

City planners envisioned a revitalization project that would bring residents and foot traffic to Burien's historic core. They formed a partnership in 2003 with Los Angeles-based Urban Partners, a private-sector developer that would construct mixed-use buildings with condominiums and retail space. The project, including the City Hall and new library, was named Burien Town Square. Its estimated cost was $193 million. Even before the first phase of the project was completed, it helped attract new businesses to the downtown's main drag, SW 152nd Street.

Design plans for Town Square were approved in March 2006, and ground-breaking ceremonies were held that October. Construction began on a seven-story condo building the following spring. Construction of the city hall/library building, at 400 SW 152nd, began in spring of 2008. Sharing a building was an unusual arrangement for the King County Library System, according to director Bill Ptacek, who called the Burien location different from others in the system "because of the relationship to the place that we're going to help build" ("New Burien Square Built ...").

"Most Momentous Event"

The June 13, 2009, dedication ceremonies for the condo and library/city hall buildings, along with a one-acre park and plaza, began with the Highline High School marching band parading down SW 152nd Street. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 200 to 1,000. Among those attending were Congressman Jim McDermott (b. 1936) and King County Executive Dow Constantine (b. 1961). McGilton called it "the most momentous event in Burien's history," while Ptacek told the spectators, "You are going to love this library" and added that the building, designed by the Seattle architectural firm of Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine, "is really an art piece" ("Burien Celebrates ...").

The two-story library's portion of the building curved along the corner of SW 152nd Street and 4th Avenue SW, with large windows looking out at the street and toward Mount Rainier. A fountain designed by George Tsutakawa (1910-1997) was installed behind the open stairway leading to the second floor, and other art was hung on walls throughout the library. At 32,000 square feet and with 51 computer terminals for public use, it was significantly bigger and better equipped than its predecessor, located at 14700 6th Avenue SW, which had 20,000 square feet and 30 public computer terminals. The new library became the city's community center.


"Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan, 11 Year Report, September 2015," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed June 10, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/pdf/11_year_report.pdf); Ray Martinez, "Hodgepodge Making Way for a New Town Square," The Seattle Times, January 7, 2007, p. E-4; Eric Pryne, "New Burien Square Built; Now It Just Needs People," Ibid., June 13, 2009, p. A-1; Carrie Wood, "Plans for Burien City Hall, Library Unveiled," The Highline Times, December 20, 2005 (www.highlinetimes.com); Wood, "City Hall/Library Design OK'd," Ibid., March 8, 2006; "Square Construction Begins," Ibid., October 3, 2006; "On to Phase Two for Burien Town Square," Ibid., December 17, 2007; Eric Mathison, "Burien to Celebrate Town Square," The Highline Times, June 10, 2009, p. 1; Mathison, "Burien Celebrates Momentous Event," Ibid., June 24, 2009, p. 1; "Over 1,000 Witness Burien Town Square Grand Opening," June 13, 2009, B-Town Blog accessed July 7, 2016 (http://b-townblog.com/2009/06/13/over-1000-witness-burien-town-square-grand-opening/); Heather Marker, email to Glenn Drosendahl, June 6, 2015, in possession of Glenn Drosendahl, Seattle, Washington.

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