Spokane public libraries expand hours for those escaping heat; STA won’t charge fares to riders heading to library cooling centers

Four Spokane Public Library locations will act as the city’s official cooling centers during this week’s heat wave, the city announced Monday.

The Central, Shadle Park, Liberty Park and Hillyard libraries will all have extended hours for the duration of the heat wave, according to a city news release. They will be open from 9 am to 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday and have a combined capacity of 1,784 people. The library’s South Hill branch is closed for renovation.

If the library branches reach capacity then the city will open more cooling centers, said Kirstin Davis, spokesperson for the city’s Public Works division. However, Davis does not expect that to happen as cooling centers during last year’s historic heatwave never reached capacity. A total of 731 people used the Looff Carrousel cooling center last year during the 10 days it was open.

An excessive heat watch has been issued by the National Weather Service for Eastern Washington and North Idaho for the rest of this week.

Spokane will experience near record-breaking temperatures Wednesday through Friday .

Temperatures are expected to peak in the middle of the week, topping 100 degrees Thursday and Friday, and then will gradually decrease to the mid-high 90s by Sunday.

The Spokane City Council passed an ordinance last year that requires the city to provide cooling centers for residents when temperatures are forecast to be over 95 degrees for two consecutive days.

Twenty Spokane County residents died in June 2021 during a record-breaking heat wave, when temperatures reached an all-time high of 109 degrees with overnight lows in the high 70s.

Davis said the library branches were the “perfect solution” for the city’s need for cooling centers. She said they already have the space and staffing to handle an influx of people, and are equipped with Wi-Fi , restrooms and activities. They were not able to be used as cooling centers last year since three of the branches were being renovated.

“The library locations are on or near bus routes, and they’re also spaced out,” Davis said. “So it’s maybe a mile or two walk depending on where you live.”

City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she is worried about how residents will get to the cooling centers, especially if they live in an area without a center in the immediate vicinity.

“If you’re stuck over in northwest Spokane on Northwest Boulevard in the heat and you need a cooling center and have to walk quite a ways to get to something – and we haven’t thought about any of that,” Stratton said. “We haven’t thought about how we transport people to these places.”

When asked if there were any plans in place to help residents with transportation to the cooling centers, Davis deferred the question to the Spokane Transit Authority. A spokesperson with the STA said there have been no formal conversations with the city regarding transportation to cooling centers.

Fare for a STA bus is $2, but Chief Operations Officer Brandon Rapez-Betty said individuals who can’t afford the fare can tell the bus operator what cooling center they are headed to and receive a free ride. Rapez-Betty said the program was adopted this year and is modeled after a similar one instituted by the public transit system in Vancouver, Washington.

“It’s a difficult approach, because we want to remind customers that transit itself is not a cooling center, and that we expect customers to have destinations,” Rapez-Betty said. “But when the heat is on like that, we are a critical partner in getting people to cooling centers. So we want to make sure we’re doing that.”

In addition to the library cooling centers, the city of Spokane and Mayor Nadine Woodward advised residents to take advantage of the 19 splash pads and six open pools located in parks throughout the city. There will also be a water bottle filling station in Riverfront Park and water misters will be installed along the Numerica Skate Ribbon.

City Councilman Zack Zappone said extending the library hours is a good start, but thinks there should be more cooling centers dispersed across the city.

“I don’t think misters on the skating rink are considered a cooling center,” Zappone said. “I think it’s a nice amenity to have, but that definitely does not constitute a cooling center.”

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said police, fire and city code personnel will have bottles of water with them to hand out as needed this week.

Local events such as the Kendall Yards Night Market, and Riverfront Eats have been canceled in preparation for the projected dangerously high heat.

Annie Gannon, the communications manager of Avista Utilities said that while demand for electricity could increase during the heat, Avista remains confident that rolling blackouts will not be needed to handle the load during this week’s heat wave. During last year’s heat wave, the utility resorted to rolling blackouts as electricity use spiked.

Excess moisture in the region may provide isolated thunderstorms mid-week, according to the National Weather Service. There are additionally elevated fire weather conditions toward the weekend. Hot, dry and breezier conditions are expected.

Thomas Kyle-Milward, a Washington Department of Natural Resources wildfire information officer, said Spokane-area fire departments are prepared for the possibility of increased wildfires.

“Our big worry is high heat. Stay cool, stay indoors,” Kyle-Milward said.

Eric Olson, fire chief of Fire District 2 in southeastern Spokane County, discouraged residents from using ATVS off-road or having any recreational fires.

“Anything with a spark is a problem,” Olson said. “Catch a movie. It’s a great week to do things indoors, not just because of the heat.”

Fire officials enacted a county-wide burn ban on Friday.

Olson said that in preparation of an upcoming fire threat, volunteer firefighters have been refreshed in wildfire training, and they have all of their equipment ready. Since Fire District 2 is entirely volunteer, many of the district’s firefighters are rearranging their schedules to be on-call during the heat wave.

“We are blessed with moisture from earlier this season, and have more fuel now than ever,” Olson said.

Reporter Greg Mason contributed to this report.