CONCRETE — After more than a year of serving its patrons from behind closed doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Upper Skagit Library not only opened its doors May 7, but the doors were to an entirely new space.

“It’s really coming together. We’re very excited about it,” library program associate Chazlyn Lovely said of the new 3,700-square-foot library near the Concrete Theatre on Main Street.

Compared to the previous library’s 1,600-square-foot open floor plan described by many as cramped, the new library includes separate rooms for computer use, children’s programs and teen interests, and office and break room space for staff.

“The old space was pretty cramped. This has given us a lot more flexibility in what we can do,” interim library Director Joy Neal said.

Neal was formerly the director of the La Conner Regional Library. She came out of retirement this year to help the Upper Skagit Library with its relocation and adjustments amid the pandemic.

“They needed help with COVID and the move, so I was happy to come on,” she said.

The library is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for half-hour appointments. No more than six patrons are allowed in at a time, and masks and social distancing are required.

Curbside service is an option for those who don’t wish to enter the building.

Neal said throughout the pandemic, the library has been offering walk-up service, as well. At the new building, patrons can ring the doorbell and tell staff what types of books or movies they are interested in, then wait for a selection to be offered for checkout.

“A lot of people don’t even have a computer to put a hold on a book if they wanted to, and they couldn’t come in and browse (before we moved),” she said. “That (walk-up service) has helped some people through this time.”

Inside, the collection of books and DVDs has expanded, and as library staff are able to process additional items in storage or received by donation, the offerings will continue to grow.

“We’ve been pretty busy,” Neal said while walking through the aisles of well-stocked shelves.

On Tuesday afternoon, several patrons dropped by — some to browse the large-print book section and others to inquire about library services.

There are six desktop computers and six laptops available for in-library use. The library can also accommodate printing, scanning and faxing needs.

Books and DVDs for all ages are available for checkout and the rooms for youth offer playful spaces including Harry Potter decorations and a variety of games.

Stuffed animals and a cozy bench welcome visitors to the children’s room — an addition Neal said she is excited to see that will support future early learning and family reading programs.

“They had a little corner before,” she said of the children’s space in the old library.

The Upper Skagit Library Foundation/Friends of the Upper Skagit Library had the bench made for the new library space. The building, which formerly served as the home of the Heskett-Arnold Post 132 of the American Legion, also has new fixtures from the roof and windows to the paint and carpet.

Former library board member Linden Jordan said the new space is beautiful and feels much bigger than the former library next to the East County Resource Center.

“Once it can open up fully, it is going to be such a great place for the community,” he said.

The Upper Skagit Library was formed by voter-approval in 2001 as a rural partial county library district serving residents within the Concrete School District but outside the towns of Concrete and Hamilton. Concrete voters annexed the town into the library district in 2015, agreeing to pay the same property tax rate as rural library users.

In 2016, Heskett-Arnold post members decided to sell the building to the library to support the library’s expansion efforts. In late 2017, an anonymous benefactor purchased the building for the library.

Renovations and upgrades to ensure compliance with state and county codes took place over the past several years.

“So much thought and planning, solely with the patrons in mind, went into this building by so many committed members of our community,” said Em Beals, who served on the library’s board of trustees from 2015 to 2020. “The end result is something to be so proud of.”

The new library is at 45952 Main St. and its new phone number is 360-853-7716. For more information, visit upperskagitlibrary.org.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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