It could take years before sufficient funds are available and construction actually starts but the City Council took a major step Tuesday night towards building a $70 million new Civic Center complex and public library. Council members indicated that the library would be the first to be rebuilt.
A majority of council members also favored a recommendation by the Pleasanton Library Commission to move the library from its current location at 400 Old Bernal Avenue to a new 73,000-square-foot public library building that would be built on city-owned property at the south end of Main Street. That would more than double the floor space of today's 21-year-old library, which has 30,178 square feet of space.
"I like the idea of making the library part of the grand entrance to our downtown," said Mayor Jennifer Hosterman. "It would be an opportunity to grab a book and walk downtown for coffee at Tully's or Café Main. I also like the idea of taking this opportunity to build a civic center that is more compact and allows us to have an organization under one roof."
As part of the project, most of the civic center facilities, including temporary buildings, would be torn down with a new 56,000-square-foot complex to be built at the north end of the existing library building for use by city administrative offices that are now located in buildings at 400 Old Bernal Avenue and at 123 and 157 Main Street. The existing library building also would be converted into office and meeting room spaces for the city government and other public uses.
The plan also calls for constructing parking garages for 171 vehicles for library patrons and another 523 vehicles adjacent to the new civic center.
The police headquarters building on Bernal Avenue would not be affected in the study's recommendation, although several council members said Tuesday they would like to see a more architecturally-pleasing facility built eventually, possibly on city-owned land in the Bernal Community Park. The police building was renovated and a 20,000-square-foot addition was built 10 years ago.
Tuesday night's action, based on an a poll of council members during an informal workshop meeting with members of the library commission, came after a report on three studies that now have been completed on the potential redevelopment of the Civic Center and library buildings on Old Bernal Avenue, Main Street and Bernal Avenue. Although no construction funds were appropriated, the council did agree to spend $45,000 to refine the study by the consulting firm of Field Paoli that recommends proceeding with the project.
Included in the council's action is authorization for City Manager Nelson Fialho and others to re=start negotiations with the city and county of San Francisco to acquire a vacant 3.3 acre site between Old Bernal Avenue and the Union Pacific railroad tracks that at one time Pleasanton thought it could buy for $500,000. San Francisco now is asking $3-1/2 million for the property.
Expanding the library and rebuilding at least part of the Civic Center site has long been a priority of the City Council although never at the top of the list. Now that other capital improvement projects have been completed and with the last of the current list—the $10-million Firehouse Arts Center—nearing completion, the council is expected to move these two new projects to the top when it considers priorities in early 2010.
The problem will be that the council, at the recommendation of City Manager Nelson Fialho, has halted all new capital projects for the duration of the economic downturn, and Tuesday night no one had a prediction as to when city revenues will start growing again. Also, the full development of the Bernal Community Park, another project that could also cost $70 million or more and was approved by voters two years ago, would be completed before the library and Civic Center projects unless the council shifts its pending priorities.
The council considered building a new City Hall and expanding the library in 2001 as part of a Downtown Specific Plan developed that year, but the two projects have never been top priorities. Since then, funding has gone toward building the Callippe Preserve golf course, the Alviso Adobe Community Park, restoring the Veterans Memorial Building and Kottinger Creek, and now building the Firehouse Arts Center.
Tuesday night's decision to again move forward on both the civic center and library expansion projects follows a new study by Kathryn Page Associates, a library planning firm, that the public library is woefully short of space in serving Pleasanton, where the population has grown from 44,600 when the library was opened to nearly 70,000 today, more than a 50 percent increase.
Originally a branch of the Alameda County Library, the city took over operation of the library in 1999, increased financial support and raised library service levels at a time when Alameda County was cutting back on hours of operation and inventory.
"In fact, the library built by the county was significantly cut in size late in the process and was under-built at the time," said Julie Farnsworth, library director.
The study, as reported Tuesday, found that the library that has served the community since it was built in 1988 has stayed the same since it became a city-owned and operated public library. Before 1988, the public library was where the Gingerbread School is now located in Amador Park, and was in a trailer before that.
Circulation of materials at the library has increased 78 percent with circulation last year topping 1.4 million items. Shelving capacity at the library has now been reached at 2.7 million volumes, with a 62 percent net increase in the overall collection size needed to meet the projected needs for Pleasanton in 2030.
Programming for children, families and adults also is lagging. Since 1999, annual attendance at library programs has grown from 5,393 to more than 30,000 people. The library's reader seat capacity is now 140 whereas a total of 364 are recommended by the consultants.
"This is the time to build the new library," said Library Commissioner Valerie Arkin. "Federal stimulus dollars might become available for projects like this and these need to be shovel-ready projects. That's why I would like to see city staff directed to get this project shovel-ready now."
"Our downtown is experiencing challenging times right now and this could help," she added. "Making a new library a reality is right thing to do."