Ideas abound at Arleta Library “imagination session”

Instead of simply hoping that the Multnomah County’s Wikman Building will be put good community use, see what these volunteers were doing, at their latest open house …

This former library would make a great community space, according to Wikman Building Coalition leaders.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Instead of merely wishing Multnomah County would turn its 93-year-old “Carnegie Library” building in Arleta to community use, a coalition of organizations too, action – holding an open house and brainstorming session on last month to consider uses for the stately building.

To see our November, 2011 story about the building: CLICK HERE.

At that Sunday open house, ROSE Community Development Executive Director Nick Sauvie explained, “ROSE, Southeast Uplift, the Portland Enrichment Project, and the neighborhood and business associations are partnering, to restore the historic Arleta Library. We’re here to give information about the community effort.”

Moreover, Sauvie added, “We’re trying to get feedback from the community about how the building should be restored to community use.”

After tours and snacks during the mid-day session, visitors chose one of several breakout discussion groups in which to participate. At the meeting’s conclusion, team leaders reported ideas and thoughts that had been brought up by contributors in their group.

This cozy kitchen is one of the many smaller rooms toured by attendees at the March open house.

Allison Curtis (seated), Nick Sauvie, Leo Quin, and Nathan Jones listen – while Nancy Chapin reports on the ideas that came from the “Asset Building” breakout session group she led.

Volunteer facilitator Allison Curtis told how her group talked about bringing together many cultures and generations. “We envisioned how to bring people together in one space, creating ‘cohesion without any constraints’. It’s important for the community to create a space that enriches the lives of all the people who are living here.”

The “Imagination” group discussion led by Leo Quin showed him, he said, that “a lot of people have very different visions for this. But, one common theme in many of these ideas is food-related. One of the most profound ideas was using the space like an indoor winter’s farmers market.”

Nathan Jones moderated the topic of the local economy. “The number one thing I took away from this is that we are looking to diversify the uses of this building, in order to enhance the existing local economy – while adding value to the community where there would otherwise be gaps. Examples of this would be providing local food or child care.”

Small offices, behind the former library’s Great Room, might provide space for community organizations or small meetings.

In the “Asset Building” group, Nancy Chapin of TSG said the participants see the building as a place for meetings and events – and activities for children and seniors.  “Particularly the ideas of a food co-op kind of space – someplace where people bring, exchange, or sell food – particularly fresh produce.”

The other theme, Chapin said she had heard, was how to incorporate the surrounding area – including nearby Laurelwood Park, the SEIU building, and the soon-to-be renovated Bob White Theater. “The idea is to create a ‘community plaza’ here. Our country is one of the few in the world that don’t incorporate the ‘plaza concept’ into city planning.”

Vehicle parking is a problem at the building – it provides only three spaces in a neighborhood whose streets are already lined with parked cars. (One participant told the group she longed for a “car-less society”, thus eliminating the quandary.)

Participants were reminded that financial donations or pledges are needed to fund planning, and to act as matching funds to leverage money received from grants.

Nick Sauvie of ROSE Community Development reports that the group is working to raise seed money to obtain matching grants, and to help with the purchase application process for Multnomah County, the current owner of the historic building.

“We’re still reaching out to potential partners,” Sauvie said. “We’ve got committees working on the program for the building, the rehabilitation of the building, and the fundraising for the building.”

The organizers will meet, review what they’ve learned, and “put ideas together, and scenarios about how to restore the building,” Sauvie added. “By June this year, we need to come up with a business plan [for the building] for Multnomah County, about how to acquire the building from them.”

The coalition doesn’t yet have a website, but they can be contacted by e-mail at

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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