McCarver Elementary might get after-school literacy program instead of public library

Proponents of a public library for Tacoma’s Hilltop community say they don’t expect it to be based at McCarver Elementary School — a possibility previously reported in The News Tribune.

Instead, the citizens group known as the Hilltop Library Planning Committee say they have been working with both Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Public Library on an after-school literacy enrichment program to be based at McCarver.

A proposal in the 2017-2018 city budget cycle includes $50,000 for staffing at a library at McCarver. The Tacoma City Council, which funds library services in the city, is scheduled to vote on the budget this month.

Last month, a school district official indicated the district was open to the concept of a library at the Hilltop school, as long as staffing was funded through the city library.

But Tacoma Public Library Director Susan Odencrantz said the money in the budget proposal is intended for a two-year pilot literacy program at McCarver aimed at elementary school children. If funding is approved, the program would operate after school hours in the newly remodeled school’s library, but won’t serve as a traditional public library, she said.

It is a literacy enhancement program for elementary students

Al Nurse, Hilltop Library Planning Committee

The city money would pay for part-time contract employees, who would operate the McCarver program three or four afternoons a week, Odencrantz said.

Library services for the Hilltop neighborhood have been the topic of public discussion for several years. The Hilltop’s closest public library branch, the Martin Luther King Jr. library at South 19th and Cedar streets, closed in 2011. Now the closest is the main downtown library, but citizen committee leaders say parents worry about sending children downtown alone.

Al Nurse, from the Hilltop Library Planning Committee, said his group’s long-term goal is to bring a public library to the Hilltop. But he said the McCarver project is something different.

“It is a literacy enhancement program for elementary students,” he said. “It’s a time for reinforcement of learning.”

Components of the program would include homework help, as well as activities designed to reinforce reading skills.

“The details and dynamics are going to have to evolve,” Odencrantz said.

She said another goal would be to help kids become more aware of Tacoma Public Library resources, including digital materials.

The details and dynamics are going to have to evolve

Susan Odencrantz, Tacoma Public Library director

Amanda Scott-Thomas, the school district’s director of community partnerships, said the idea has been presented to the Tacoma School Board, but that many details still need to be worked out before the program can be launched. She, too, said the McCarver project is not a traditional, stand-alone public library.

“The district has heard the proposal and is open to exploring opportunities to partner and collaborate,” Scott-Thomas said.

If the city approves funding for program staff, the library and the school district would create a written agreement outlining the program.

McCarver, built in 1924, reopened in September after a $39-million renovation by Tacoma Public Schools. Included in the renovation is McCarver Square, an open space that houses the school’s library-without-walls and a restored stage. School officials say McCarver was designed for after-school use by the community.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo