ESCONDIDO: Critics question plan for new library wing (2024)

A proposal to spend roughly $25 million on a new wing for theEscondido Library has raised questions about how the project wouldbe financed, whether the city could afford to operate it andwhether a higher city priority should be restoring a recent 39percent reduction in library hours.

Library trustees said last week that quickly moving forward withthe new wing should be a high priority, because having specificplans in place would help secure the donations, grants and propertytax increase required to fund the project.

“We need an innovative project that will attract attention andphilanthropy,” said Alex Galenes, president of the library board oftrustees.

Proponents also contend that more library space is badly neededin Escondido, where the population has more than doubled since themain library opened on Kalmia Street in 1980.

The new wing, which would be roughly 30,000 to 40,000 squarefeet, would nearly double the city’s library space when combinedwith the 40,000-square-foot main library. It would be built justwest of the main building.

Proponents also say the new wing would not sharply increaseoperating costs because it would be more efficient than the currentlibrary, which was built before computers and the Internet becamekey components of library services.

In addition, having separate wings and entrances would serve thecommunity better and save money by allowing certain parts of thelibrary to remain open at different times. For example, thechildren’s section might only be open during after-schoolhours.

But critics have questioned a financing plan that includes $5million from city reserves, $7 million from donations or grants,and $10 million from a bond measure that could hike annual propertytaxes $2.50 for every $100,000 in assessed value. Trustees saidlast week that they might seek voter approval for a bond measure asearly as 2012.

“Raising $7 million is a very ambitious goal,” City CouncilmanSam Abed told trustees last week. “And I think a more realisticcost for this would be $30 million to $35 million, instead of $22million.”

Abed also said city officials should not consider building a newwing until they have enough money to restore hours at the mainlibrary, which were slashed from 57 per week to 42 per week lastspring, and the hours at the city’s lone branch on East ValleyParkway, which were cut from 36 per week to 15 per week lastspring.

The $5 million in city reserves required for the project alsoraised eyebrows on the council last week, but Councilman DickDaniels said the city might use some of the roughly $3 million inannual redevelopment revenue it expects to begin receiving in2013.

In addition, proponents said some of the construction costscould be covered by private sector partners who might occupy partof the new building.

Councilwoman Marie Waldron questioned whether the declining needfor books during the Internet age might allow the city to build asmaller new wing, which would cost less money.

But Laura Mitchell, the city’s head librarian, said the librarystill loans out 750,000 books per year, and that books will bearound for many more years.

And Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, who praised the plan for a newwing, said extra space would still be needed because more peopleare using the library.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz questioned whether the city, which hascut annual library funding from $4.2 million to $3.1 million since2007 to balance its budget, could afford to operate a new wing.

She said building a new wing and not being able to staff itwould be similar to the city’s inability to hire firefighters for anew station that opened in 2008 on Del Dios Road.

That station was built with $5 million from a public safety bondmeasure approved by city voters in 2004, but it houses only anambulance crew because city officials decided they couldn’t affordto hire more firefighters.

Library turmoil

The proposal for a new library wing comes at a time when thecity’s entire library system is in turmoil.

The budget crisis prompted the sharp reduction in library hourslast year and made city officials consider closing the East Valleybranch this winter. It has also prompted the city to considerturning its libraries over to the county system, which runs itslibraries for significantly less money per hour than Escondidodoes.

In addition, Abed and Diaz have advocated relocating the libraryto the education wing of the city’s performing arts center to savemoney.

“The ball game has changed because of this economic crisis,”said Galenes, the library board president. “It makes my head spinimmensely.”

But Galenes said city officials can’t allow the recession tomake them lose sight of key long-term goals. He said one such goalshould be building a new library, which the city has been exploringfor nearly 10 years.

“How far do you damage quality of life and still have a city?”Galenes said. “We have to solve the budget crisis of today, butwe’ve still got to focus on where we’ll be when it’s over.”

He said the plan for a new wing was the right approach to atough situation.

Plans to build a new 86,000-square-foot library, which wouldhave cost about $50 million, fell through when two cityapplications for state grants to cover construction costs weredenied in 2004, and then when a $600 million state public libraryconstruction bond failed at the polls in 2006.

So trustees came up with a proposal this year to build the newlibrary in two phases, starting with the $25 million wing.

Galenes also said some costs for the wing could be defrayed bypartnering with the private sector. He suggested a company such asthe University of Phoenix could pay for part of the cost and holdclasses in the new library. Or, he said, the new library couldinclude spaces for a book store and/or coffeehouse, which would paythe city rent.

Diaz expressed support for such an approach, and suggested thecity should consider charging higher fees for printing and otherservices.

“Libraries are a public service, but that doesn’t mean therecan’t be some aspects that are revenue-generating,” she said.

A new library would also help the city economically, Galenessaid, by raising property values, drawing more people to downtownand educating the city’s work force of tomorrow.

Daniels agreed.

“This community does and will need a first-class library for itsresidents,” he said.

Call staff writer David Garrick at 760-740-5468.

ESCONDIDO: Critics question plan for new library wing (2024)
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