Disturbing Plans for The Mercer Island Library

Thanks to commenter Barbara Halliday, who let me know about a project to renovate our library and the response by a group of concerned citizens. Before I get into any specifics, why don’t you judge for yourself. Here’s the Library today:

MI_Library_Today

And this is the Library tomorrow?

MI_Library_annotated

Source: Presentation from public meeting on 1/7/2104. 

A few of the major differences:

  • The skylight is gone. Why would you ever take out a skylight?
  • There are many fewer books. Libraries serve many functions, but the serendipity of walking around and browsing books is an important one, especially for younger readers.
  • The Library may be closed for up to a year to complete the project.
  • The new design is marked by the loss of a feeling of warmth.

To that latter point, the response of the citizens’ group struck me: “The issue with furniture and finishes is not darker wood, but having a warm, and friendly home-like atmosphere, not a bright, very light atmosphere similar to airport terminals.”  

I moved here about 6 years ago now. I was– and am– pleased at what a comfortable and attractive library we have. It’s got great windows and nice spaces for sitting. It’s not the biggest library, but it’s got stacks of books, like a library should.

I agree with the citizens’ group that this overhaul is not only not necessary, it’s out of character and will leave us with a worse library. The group advocates that we meet current shortcomings, in particular Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, with a reconfiguration that stays in character with Mercer Island. It’s at least worth looking at.

Time to Vote for the School Bond and Levy

Last April voters rejected a school bond to replace buildings and buy new land for a 4th elementary school. There’s a new, scaled-back bond and levy on the ballot.

Mercer Island schools are overcrowded and some of the facilities are outdated. One of this community’s strongest values is education and voting for the bond and levy is a good way to show that. If the need itself doesn’t convince you, consider that federal funds don’t come close to paying for education.

And if you really don’t care about education at all, just vote for your home value. There’s a strong correlation between quality of public schools and home prices. The data shows correlation, not causality, but maybe we shouldn’t test that.

WHAT WOULD THE BOND PAY FOR?

First, a new elementary school to ease overcrowding in the three existing schools. There would be 14 new classrooms and new common space at the middle school. And the high school would get 10 new classrooms and science labs. Here are the proposed classrooms and labs at MIHS:

MIHS-new-classrooms

WHAT WOULD THE LEVY PAY FOR?

General maintenance and 26% of the operating budget of the schools.

WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?

The Fox says get out and vote, already! I mean mail your ballots so that they are postmarked by Feb. 11.

Distinctive Mercer Island Home to Go Under for Subdivision

Most houses don’t have a website. Mine doesn’t. But The Coval House does. It’s an old homestead on 5 acres near Luther Burbank Park. According to the site, “There are four enduring qualities that the Covals held in highest regard: a passion for natural materials, an honesty and excellence in workmanship, a reverence for the past, and a desire for the understated.”
Coval-house-mercer-island-2
Photo from the Coval House website.

The Mercer Island Reporter has reported that the home, orchard, and rest of the grounds will go under for 18 homes after the owners failed to sell it. The Reporter included the plans and did a nice job of being objective.

Luckily, I don’t have to be objective. It’s a damn shame that a beautifully built and maintained house is going to go down. This isn’t about density or affordability. It’s about losing a distinctive piece of Seattle history to mega mansions. Look at the plat plan in the Reporter article– the homes are on top of each other.

If you went to the Mohia’s Celluloid Seattle exhibit, you saw a lot of before-and-after of great theaters in Seattle. Some are heartbreaking, like this one:
Egyptian-then-now
Photo from Mohai’s Celluloid Seattle.

To me this project is our equivalent of knocking down a theater house for a noodle joint in a strip mall.
2014:
Coval-house-mercer-island

2016:
Issaquah Highlands

Unfortunately, right now a rant is all I got. Except an appeal to the planning commission at their Jan 15 meeting: don’t let this happen.

Shop Local Mercer Island

Hope you just enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving at home and not out shopping!. It was bad enough when Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend became about shopping, but staffing shifts on Thanksgiving is pretty low.

End of rant. If you are planning to shop sometime this weekend, think about Mercer Island stores. But I’d encourage you to skip Friday and shop local on Saturday.

Island Books

This is by far the best shopping on Mercer Island, Aside from books, games and kid toys, there are also some jewelry and other craft items. I usually do a bunch of my holiday shopping here.
Island-books

Island-books-goods

Island-books-toys

Terra Bella

Terra Bella has a bunch of candles and home items,
Terra-bella

and they just opened a holiday shop next door:
Terra-Bella-Christmas-shop

Stopsky’s

Stopsky’s has a bunch of tasty food items for the foodie in your life.
Stoskys-dry-goods

As well as pastries:
Stopskys-pastries

And if you do go off-Island, consider where with this handy post on shopping neighborhoods near the MI.

Did I miss any? Add your favorite MI shop in the comments.

Photos from Harvest Farmers’ Market

On Sunday the Mercer Island Farmers Market did its special pre-Thanksgiving holiday market. A beautiful day for it:
Mercer-Island-Farmers-Market

There were some new booths, including arts and crafts with nice gift ideas.
Arts-Crafts

And some good food. In addition to the pizza and the veggie quesadillas that they usually have, Skillet made an appearance:
Skillet-Mercer-Island-Farmers-Market
Want to make it out to another one? You’ll have to wait til spring. Follow the Mercer Island Farmers Market website or Facebook page. By the way, they are applying for beer and wine tasting license. Should be some great new vendors next year.

Yesterday’s Opening of the New Dragon at Island Crest Park

Yesterday was the ribbon-cutting on the new dragon at Deane Children’s park.
Dragon-1.jpg

Here’s the ribbon cutting:
Dargon-6.jpg

The old dragon was much-loved but 50 years old. The celebration included an interview with the artist, Kenton Pies, also the artist of the original dragon:
Kenton-Pies

The music lady Nancy Stewart was there with a new song for the occasion:
Music-lady

Lots of folks turned out, and the kids knew what to do at the playground.
Dargon-5.jpg

More on the project, including photos of building this dragon and the original dragon, on the Mercer Island Parks website.

What Six Years of Mercer Island Real Estate Says

It’s been an interesting last few years in the Mercer Island real estate market. As it turns out, I’ve tracked it for long enough that I have a nice little database of six years of data, which shows how prices fell through 2011 and 2012 and have only recently began to pick up.
Mercer-Island-REal-estate-Price-Trends-2

The first chart is average price per square foot, which is basically the price taking into account the size of the house. Clearly prices hit a bottom in 2011-2012 and are slowly climbing out.

Also interesting is the second chart, which is the amount that buyers have to pay relative to what sellers ask. Sale-to-list price hit their low at 86% in 2009 and has now rebounded to the mid-90’s. Lower sale-to-list prices signal a weaker market.

And finally, in the last chart above you can see that the number of home sales has also picked up since a low in 2009.

What’s the punchline? The Great Recession seems to be losing its hold on the market, if slowly. Volume, prices and sale-to-list prices are all picking up at the same time.

Let’s look at the last six years another way, by neighborhood:
Mercer-Island-REal-estate-update-median-2

On the left we see all home sales plotted on a map with the size showing sale price. Clearly some of the mansions around the edge of the Island are the big whales, selling for $10 million and up.

What’s most interesting here are neighborhood differences. The median sale price is higher as you go south, but the houses tend to be larger too. The boxplot in the lower right shows that North Island has the most diversity in home size, the median price per square foot is quite similar up and down the island.

These charts are made using Tableau, which is also where I work. You can find interactive versions with all the data here.