News

Palo Alto to hire new contractor for Mitchell Park library

Big-D Pacific set to take over after Flintco was fired last month

After firing the contractor responsible for the botched construction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, Palo Alto officials will on Monday select a new company to finish the job.

The City Council is set to bring in Big-D Pacific Builders to complete the project, which voters approved in a 2008 bond and which has fallen far behind schedule because of disputes between the city and the hired contractor, Flintco Pacific. The city fired Flintco on Jan. 10, citing the company's consistent failure to devote sufficient personnel to the project and to meet deadlines. Since then, the city and Flintco's surety have negotiated a takeover agreement that will allow a new company to finish the job.

The city selected Big-D largely because of its previous experience in working with the city. The company was in charge of the recent renovation of the Palo Alto Art Center, a project that was completed on time and under budget. More recently, the city had hired Big-D to be its "on call" contractor for Mitchell Park, the largest of the three library projects voters approved when they passed Measure N in 2008.

City officials said in a statement changing the contractor so late in the game will come at "little or no cost" for the city. As part of its agreement with Flintco, the company had to post a performance bond to protect the city's interests in case the company is unable to complete the job. The takeover agreement caps the total liability for Flintco's surety at $28 million, with the city expected to contribute any additional contract funds that might be needed. The city's announcement noted that "due to the significant delays already occurred, it is anticipated that little if any contract balance funds will be paid to the surety."

In a statement, City Manager James Keene said Big-D has "a good track record with the City, and we are hopeful they will be able to come in and finish this project. Public Works Director Mike Sartor concurred and noted that the company is already familiar with the Mitchell Park project.

"We had previously retained Big-D to perform work that Flintco was unable or unwilling to do and so they are already vetted to work on the project," Sartor said.

Initially pegged for 2012 completion, the library at 4050 Middlefield Road is now expected be finished this summer.

Comments

Posted by High Standards, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

2 Major libraries closed; Mitchell and Newell.
Unacceptable for Palo Alto.


Posted by E-Books-Rock, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 3:47 pm

There are now over 1M e-books available from Amazon via their Kindle product:

Web Link

and perhaps 30 million scanned books on the Google web-site--millions of which are free to download.

Palo Altans can get their books out of the cloud these days. Who needs Mitchell Park?


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Most of the collection is available somewhere for $1 a volume.

Makes you wonder how much trouble it's worth to catalog a non-research library.

We could just order a used copy from Abe Books every time someone wants a paper book. Probably even cheaper than subscribing to ebooks. No catalog, no shelving costs, no storage costs, no penalties and no fines.


Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Has anyone in the City Staff been fired yet??? Bet not. No one gets fired from their six figure jobs. And if someone does get fired it will be some poor accountant 3 levels down. And we wonder why every job takes too long and runs over budget. Keep an eye on the $20M soccer fields at the golf course and the $10M sidewalk project on California Ave. We shall see said the blind man.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm

This is another self-inflicted wound. We drank,the Kool aid a few years back from the FOPAL gang and the people pushing the library bond and bough their song and dance that Palo Alto is so,special that we need 5 library branches!!!!! So stop complaining about the outcome.


Posted by J. W., a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Palo Alto is a very special place. We deserve more than e-books. We want a nice place where neighbors can gather, children can study, and people can browse physical books and magazines. We also want to have coffee at our libraries instead of Starbucks and Peets.


Posted by J. W., a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:36 pm

The process is too opaque. From outside, Mitchell Park Library seems to be already done. Can the remaining issues be fixed after the library is opened in operation???


Posted by Ed, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:11 am

Will the City ever issue an objective and comprehensive report to the public explaining exactly what went wrong at Mitchell Park and fairly allocating blame where fairly due? My guess is no, because the City has some culpability in the fiasco and they don't want to admit any fault.


Posted by businessdecision, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 7:15 am

The subject is not books vs e-books but since someone brought that up-- let's just say that some of us hate you e-book lovers because your habits are studied and then feed back into what books get produced in the first place, and it ain't pretty.
thanks a whole lot.


Posted by Former library supporter, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

High Standards is correct--it's inexcusable that both major libraries in Palo Alto are closed and have been for some time. Where has the Library Commission been in all of this--why did they allow the library staff to cut off these services?


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

Mitchell Park Library? What's that?

5 words for you--Santa Clara County Library System. You PAY for what you get, true--but--we have been very happy with their collection and the location is no further from our home than a trip to Main was. Why Palo Alto is sooo very special that this city can't be part of a vast county wide system is beyond me. But you're right, the FOPAL Antique Society surely had their say. The book sales are fabulous, for the bargain hunters and the professional resellers, and they make money. But it's a mere drop in the bucket compared to the cost overruns of the library projects. FOPAL is hurting for volunteers--what happens if the dedicated free labor runs out or ages out?


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

1) Re Ebooks, whenever I go to reserve a title at the library, the ebooks are always available and there's a long wait for the hard copy books. Also, as soon as PA made the decision the change the library design after the construction plans were made to accommodate more ebooks, Amazon changed its plan for libraries, requiring them the REPURCHASE the ebooks after a certain number of readers had read the title. So they cost more.

2) The library boondoggle is ridiculous. How can the Council say that changing contractors had little or no cost? Staff time abd legal fees aren't free and we the taxpayers have had to pay to use the county library system and/or buy the books they want or need.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Also, three years into the delay, the library staff is STILL waiting for the city to commit the IT resources so they can test a limited rollout of LINK+, the interlibrary loan system so we can have access to the books that are in storage. They're also negotiating with the city for some short-term parking spaces near the Downtown library branch so people can run in and pick up their books when/if LINK+ is ever launched.

The City MIGHT have anticipated that with 2 libraries closed, we the library patrons just MIGHT want to use LINK+ before 3 years of delay have passed, 6 -- SIX -- years since the bond was approved.


Posted by lovebooks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 3:00 pm

@J.W.: Since when are taxpayers responsible for providing residents with gathering spots and coffee houses? Or brewing classes?

"Palo Alto library system launches Brew University, a beer education program" This is the "brainchild" of Cheryl Lee, Palo Alto's community engagement and outreach librarian. "We're trying to change the game and broaden what the library means to people," Lee said. Web Link

Or is it a way to preserve her job?


Posted by E-Books-Rock, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 3:12 pm

> PA made the decision the change the library design after the
> construction plans were made to accommodate more ebooks

This never made much sense .. unless the idea was to remove some shelf space and reuse that space for something else. E-books don't have any real volume, and e-book readers are very small, compared to any paper book.

As to e-books costing more--one would have to actually do the math before such a claim could be made. Do you have the worksheets that prove that all e-books cost more than paper books?

And by the way .. if you buy your own e-books, then the public won't have to.


Posted by Waste of resources, time, and money, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 28, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Very few people locally read paper books anymore. I personally have not read one in three years. After reading from a Kindle Paperwhite, I find print books to be very fatiguing on the eyes. Apparently, it is only small children just learning to read who need print books, for the tactile experience, but other than that, there is really no need for libraries anymore--other than for free internet.

This whole thing has been a hugely expensive waste, thanks to the council, the ARB and the Planning Commission who were all so short-sighted and under-informed.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I do read both paper books and use my Kindle. I don't buy Kindle books much as they are expensive and I rarely buy paper books either for the same reason and also the space they take up.

However, we do not need stacks of shelves of books. What we need is a checkout desk and hold shelves. I use the catalog at home and place the book I want on hold. When it is available I get an email and I go pick it up. Unfortunately the library is often closed on my first attempt due to the complicated opening hours which I don't memorize. I get an email reminder when it is due back and drop the book off. I rarely speak to anyone on my visit to the library and the only time I have used the internet is when we have had internet/computer problems at home.

I loved the old Mitchell Park library. It was a charming building and looked lovely, wish I had taken a picture before it was demolished. I know it had to be remodeled and feel sure that a complete remodel could have been done leaving the character of the building the same without all the time and cost that the new monstrosity is taking. Whoever thought blue and yellow was a good color scheme to complement a park setting needs their head examined.


Posted by Robert Smith, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2014 at 4:45 pm

It is very disappointing, but not surprising, that no one on the staff has been fired (apparently) and that we will not hear about what mistakes the city made on the library project.

The project is two years behind as of this spring, and no one on the city council or staff has treated this as seriously as it deserves to be treated. It took them two years to take action against the contractor, and no one on staff has been fired or disciplined (at least as far as we poor taxpayers are permitted to know).

I voted for the library bond issue and am very disappointed. The city has been trying for several years to figure out a way to get a new infrastructure bond issue through in order to build a new police station, the exact need for which no one seems to understand. I for one will not easily be persuaded that the city should be entrusted with another big construction project and bond issue to pay for it.


Posted by igorm, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 28, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Responding to some of the few comments:

1. Yes, PA needs a regular library, not an e-library.
2. Yes, those in the Council who hired the contractor should be fired. We'll remember next time we vote but we need the name(s).
3. Maybe ... just maybe, next time the city decides to tear down a perfectly good building and replace it with a boondoggle, that will be put on a ballot?

We NEED to keep an eye on these people, or this community is going to be screwed. Primarily, the re-zoning issue but that is a different discussion.
DEMAND accountability.


Posted by businessdecision, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 5:46 pm

resident, yes, we need the stacks: we learn by browsing.


Posted by citizenx, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

I am sure that those commenting about the library being a "waste of money because people get their books from the cloud" are not library users. The library is much more than just a storage facility for books. It is a learning institution full of knowledgeable professionals, a hub for the community, and for many children the first place they learn to interact and socialize with other children (story times). Quit trying to turn this into a conversation about books being obsolete and therefore libraries are obsolete. Visit the library, talk to a librarian and see what resources, programs and services they have that will be useful to you. You might actually learn something like how to stop being bitter and how to start enjoying life, or maybe how to take advantage of resources instead of complaining about them. I too am disappointed in the delay, however I want to believe that it will be worth the wait and our community will greatly benefit from this new facility.


Posted by Vision vs reality, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2014 at 5:58 am

I read books and like libraries. i think it's great that libraries are branching out to explore new ways to assist the community. The role of books and the entire culture surrounding them is changing, and at the same time the need for a place to foster in-person social interaction for the community is growing as the generations raised on interactions through electronic devices mature.

There are many tutors tutoring at libraries these days. That's probably the main sense in which the libraries are a learning institution. But the library is not by any reasonable standard currently a hub for the community. Nor is it a general learning institution. Yes, there are good and great professional librarians, but there's more to learn about in the world than libraries and library science.


Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

The Mitchell Park building should/could be a great public safety building. Its design for books on shelf is getting more and more outmoded as the months and years pass by and it is still not completed. For seniors like me, another 20 years down the road, the public safety building will still be needed, but libraries in the grand old style -- not so much.

That said, books on the shelf is an outdated concept. Any librarian who has taken one sales course/business course should be able to negotiate a better contract with Amazon and the other eBook Powers That Be than the average citizen gets. Come On! Think outside the box or book on the shelf model.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2014 at 11:28 am

There is a place for libraries and their resources. It is not just a paper book vs. e-book situation. The kinds of needs/usage and types of questions that come into public libraries are extremely far-ranging.
I have already a nice collection of print books and I'm not going to toss those as I value those and refer to them time and again. That said, e-books are ideal for popular fiction and other things, too, so there is no point to objecting to them.
I am not sure it is that easy negotiating with Amazon; didn't independent bookstores in UK have a recent problem with expenses and changes in terms from Amazon, when they thought they were modernizing and agreeing to include e-books -
I don't think it is necessary to get totally hung up on format although space allocations should be flexible in public facilities like library/community centers.


Posted by E-Books-Rock, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Forgot to mention Oysterbooks, which is a fairly new supplier of e-books on the Cloud--

Web Link

As to leaning by browsing .. with millions of books available on-line, you can browse all day long, and all not long and all year long .. a lot of learning for those willing to use e-resources and who really wants to learn.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 3, 2014 at 11:17 am

The point remains that when you reserve a title, the ebooks are always available but the hard-copy books have a long waiting list.

The numbers show what's in demand.


Posted by Ex Libris, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm

"City officials said in a statement changing the contractor so late in the game will come at 'little or no cost' for the city."

After the local press stories were written about this City Council agenda item, the agenda description was revised to add an amendment to the city's contract with Turner Construction "to add $740,000 for a total not to exceed $2,225,000 and to extend term to June 30, 2015 for extended construction management services for the Project."

Doesn't seem to be "little or not cost" for the city. Or is the surety covering the additional cost of Turner Construction as well?


Posted by le plus ca change, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm

If you've ever tried to build a house, it's easy to have sympathy with the City, especially since anything associated with "Palo Alto" is targeted for a soaking by anyone in the building industry.

That said, I can remember having conversations with City and district people about just such perils before Mitchell Park construction began, and hearing how they'd all learned their lessons from some past fiasco and it would never happen again. Sigh.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Could the new Mitchell Park Library be converted into a new police station?
I believe in libraries, but I think we could do without the new monster Mitchell Park library. The Middlefield Road location would be perfect for a police station. Has this idea ever been suggested to the city council?


Posted by Ann, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Why can't this "library" project be used for un-housed people, especially women? We have so much need for the un-housed, but we don't really need more libraries, in this age of the Internet.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 4, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Couldn't afford the transient occupancy tax.


Posted by John, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2014 at 4:31 pm

What everyone seems to be missing here is that the job will get completed at no additional coast to the taxpayer because the project was bonded.
"City officials said in a statement changing the contractor so late in the game will come at "little or no cost" for the city. As part of its agreement with Flintco, the company had to post a performance bond to protect the city's interests in case the company is unable to complete the job." It's tru, check out:
Web Link


Posted by Mayes in Palo Alto, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 7, 2014 at 3:52 pm

City government in Palo Alto does not seem capable of successfully managing development projects for the benefit of the residents. The library project is an excellent example. On the other hand, they seem very successful at helping developers, corporations and the lawyers who represent them get wealthy reducing our quality of life. I have absolutely no confidence that the City can successfully manage the California Avenue redevelopment project or that the end result will be in the best interests of the community. I have no doubt that developers and corporations will do well, just not the residents.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:10 pm

"no additional coast to the taxpayer" -- time is money, especially when it is years.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

If this library building was opened up to the un-housed, we would be making a statement to the world that we are compassionate and caring. The libraries are no longer necessary, but shelters are crucial. If the majority of American libraries were to be converted to homeless shelters, imagine how much better off we would all be?


Posted by local parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm

With all due respect, Ann, just because you don't use the library, does not mean libraries are no longer used or necessary. Lots of people, especially families with children, use the libraries, or we wouldn't have voted to build this thing at such great expense to all of us. And frankly, plenty of unhoused people find refuge in the libraries as it is (often making them, frankly, very unpleasant for everyone else, which may be why some of them get less used).

Why don't we have actual compassion on the unhoused by doing the hard work of restoring our public health system, including mental health services and housing where necessary, supporting education for all far better, and ensuring no one goes hungry? Why don't we consider better social safety nets like some of the other even less wealthy first-world nations are able to provide?

Were you making a rhetorical point, or really suggesting we take away such a valuable community meeting place and educational resource and warehouse people there instead of caring for them? Honestly, your view point seems uncomfortably like that of some of the ridiculously and unrealistically idealistic advocates who seem to think of the unhoused not so much as people but as some kind of pitiable human pet. All people deserve dignity. We'll all feel pretty bad some day when medicine figures out how to cure some of the mental illnesses that keep us thinking about many of the unhoused as somehow anything lesser than "there but for the Grace of God..."

Until then, we would all be better off not using our ideologies as some kind of bludgeon in public life -- far better to think about the unhoused as people with problems that need solving, not with rose-colored glasses so we can put them in big expensive boxes and give ourselves a pat on the back for how caring and progressive we are.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm

What has happened to the care and compassion that Palo Alto is well known for? Aren't we supposed to lead the way? Some Palo neighborhoods even object to affordable housing and homeless shelters. This "library" project is a perfect example of what we can do to reverse this horrible trend. Our compassion should extend to all neighborhoods and all public buildings, if we want to keep our soul. The un-housed need housing, and there should be no limitation in a city as rich as Palo Alto.


Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 10, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Ann - this is a community center which includes a library. It is next to a baseball park, a city park, and a school. Forget turning this into anything other than what it is suppose to be. It is what it is. Quit shredding your hanky over it. If you visit the library at Cubberly you will see that it is well used, and a good place for our children. When Mitchel Park is done it will be a great place for the community and our children. That is what we voted on and that is what it is going to be.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm

The mean-spirited want to be exclusive. I can detect this in the fight to exclude the homeless in our neighborhoods, especially Cubberley Community Center and College Terrace and Barron Park. Yet these people have an argument, in that other neighborhoods do not want to do the right thing, either.

We all need to open up our neighborhoods and public buildings to the un-housed. Our public policies should be aimed at helping the least of these, not the greedy selfish ones. The 1% should not deny the 99%.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 10, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Ok, I'm confused. I thought 99% of Palo Altans were housed and 1% weren't.


Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:09 pm

How does a blog about the Community center which has a defined purpose become a homeless crusade? Our tax dollars were dedicated to this specific effort. If you want a separate blog about homeless people then start one. I suggest that you start with your specific religious group - church or temple - to coordinate with them as to an approach to the topic.
People have an interest in seeing this effort completed successfully. We don't have to be told we are mean spirited because we are talking about the community center being all that it is suppose to be and we want it completed.


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