What was once a casino that rolled out cards, dice and poker chips has become a full-service library filled with books, computers and learning opportunities.
The 5,300-square-foot building – idle and empty on Kent’s East Hill since the Great American Casino closed in 2015 because of financial losses – has undergone a complete metamorphosis. A new library has emerged, representing a golden landmark for the King County Library System.
On Saturday morning, library, city and community leaders joined area residents to welcome the Kent Panther Lake Library – the 50th in the KCLS lineup – with a celebrated grand opening of thanks-filled speeches, a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony and music.
At 10 a.m. the doors officially opened to the public. The library, according to staff, was buzzing with patrons and activity throughout the day.
“It’s been full all day. The feedback has been really positive,” said Steven Thomas, regional manager for KCLS.
“Wonders were done from a former casino building. The building looks great,” Thomas said. “It will be well used. It will really play an important role in filling a gap in library service for Kent. … We hear it over and over from community members who say they are glad we are here.”
The new library, highly visible at 20514 108th St. SE, comes at a time of need. Kent has grown substantially in the past 10 years, necessitating the call for a second public library in the city. The new addition is a more convenient reach for many residents on the north end of Kent than the established, larger library the sits downtown on 2nd Avenue North.
The $3.3 million library, a tenant-improvement project, was the final new KCLS facility to be completed under the voter-approved $172 million capital bond measure, which, to date, has funded 17 new libraries, expanded 11 libraries, renovated 15 libraries and expanded two parking lots.
The downtown Kent Library, which opened in 1991, was renovated in 2009 as part of the bond measure.
The new library, originally called East Hill of Kent Library, was renamed with input from the community.
“We are thrilled to open KCLS’ 50th library and know that the residents of Panther Lake share that excitement. We are grateful to King County voters for supporting the 2004 capital bond measure, which made it possible to build this vital community asset that will serve library patrons for generations to come,” said KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum.
The library is stocked with a new collection of books for readers of all ages and includes music CDs, DVDs, nine public-use computers and other services. It offers wireless access and has designated spaces for children, teens and others for their learning activities. It’s also the new home of three pieces of art by renowned Northwest artist Jacob Lawrence – “Strategy” (1994), “St. Marc” (1994) and “The Coachman” (1990).
“We’re a smaller footprint but we really wanted to be able to offer all of the services,” said Emrys Minnig, library operations manager. “We worked to put everything you would expect from a full-service library in here.”
The project called for a complete building renovation and includes many green features, such as energy-efficient windows to bring more sunlight in while reducing electricity costs and specialized sensors to reduce costs by controlling interior and exterior lighting.
Fivedot, a Seattle-based architectural firm, designed the library,
Small but resourceful, the library fits the neighborhood and its needs, library leaders said.
“And it’s great that we have that honor to be the 50th library,” Minnig said.