Council to hear library recommendation tonight

Library Advisory Commission to suggest new two-story Mitchell Park Library/Community Center

Boosted by a city audit that found Palo Alto's libraries in poor condition and in need of significant improvements, the Palo Alto Library Advisory Commission will recommend a new two-story Mitchell Park Library/Community Center to the City Council tonight.

At their Thursday night meeting last week, library commission members chose a single-phase building plan, called Option B, to replace the aging library and community center in one fell swoop.

A separate two-phase plan that would build the library first and replace the community center at a later time was rejected because of its high cost and the disturbance prolonged construction would create in the surrounding neighborhood, council members said.

"There are gross inefficiencies -- it's a mess," Commission member Sanford Forte said of two-phase building projects.

"There are 1.3 to 1.8 percent per month cost increases for building a recreation center after the library, and we would risk another process around the recreation center down the road," he added.

The council tonight is not scheduled to make a decision about the two options. Instead, it is expected to vote on whether to increase the city's capital-improvement budget by $275,000, to accommodate a fuller design work-up of both options A and B. Following that work, expected to be completed by late January 2008, the council would make its determination of which option to approve, according to a city manager's report.

Commission members were still smarting over the 2002 failure of Measure D, a $49.1 million bond measure that would have renovated Children's Library and rebuilt the Mitchell Park Library/Community Center. The measure won a majority of votes, but did not muster the two-thirds approval needed for passage. But they expressed hope they could resurrect the Mitchell Park rebuild, which is smaller than the one offered during Measure D, they said.

"The need was there then and it is there today," Commission Chair Sandra Hirsh said.

The proposed library would be a 36,265-square-foot, two-story structure with a program room, tech center and children and teen areas. The community center would comprise 15,001 square feet, with "green" and solar-roof components and would wrap around a courtyard containing a heritage live oak.

Commission members did not outline potential costs of the proposed complex, but said with inflation it would cost more than structures of similar size and scope would have in 2002.

Library Director Diane Jennings said that cost estimators had not yet completed a figure and she did not know if one would be available by Monday night's meeting.

The biggest hurdle is public education, commission members told members of the Lew Edwards Group, a communications, government affairs and political consulting group hired by the city to do public outreach. During Measure D, opponents were well organized and could be expected to be so again, they said. Proponents will need to convince the public that the new plans are not a rehash of Measure D, the commission members said.

But a city audit called Palo Alto's libraries "dilapidated" and cramped, when compared to 10 other libraries toured in Mountain View, Menlo Park, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Los Altos, Redwood City, San Mateo, Sunnyvale and San Jose. Libraries such as Menlo Park, Sunnyvale and Los Altos are approximately the same age as Palo Alto's but have been significantly remodeled since being built. Mitchell Park Library was built in 1958.

"Other libraries have private meeting rooms that can be reserved for groups, large or small. Palo Alto offers only one private meeting room at one library that can accommodate four people," the report noted. Palo Alto libraries are cramped, poorly lit and have fewer tables and outdated furniture, making them far less inviting than other libraries, the report added.

"This wasn't an issue we intended to address," City Auditor Sharon Erickson said. Of the 10 outside libraries, "none were as poor as Palo Alto's libraries."

Hirsh said library circulation figures are at an all-time high, but many people are going to libraries in other towns with better amenities.

"Can we get them back? Will they support a bond measure?" she asked.

Opponents to the Measure D expansion claimed in 2002 that use of library facilities is on the decline due to virtual delivery of library services and movement of information through the Internet. But the report found that high-tech venues for information "have not diminished the demand for the public work space that a Library building offers."

Ultimately, the audit agreed with a previous report by the city staff and the library commission calling for "significant renovations," including expansion of Mitchell Park Library, renovation of Downtown and College Terrace libraries and adding a meeting room to the Main Library.

However, Erickson said this week, details on the facility renovations are "policy choices most appropriately left to the community and the City Council."

"It's all about the facilities. Libraries now serve so many functions. They are used for meetings, programs and events. They are not just for information gathering anymore," Commission member Susie Thom said.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto news
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 2, 2007 at 11:36 pm

the city officials should participate on this because its for the good of all who used the library and also if they attend to that meeting they can have a chance to tackle about the problems and the facilities they needed.

Like this comment
Posted by Voter
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 8:52 am

Web Quote: "Commission members were still smarting over the 2002 failure of Measure D", my advice - GET OVER IT!!!!

This was a huge ugly monster of a building that spread over the tennis and paddleball courts and, if built, would have dominated Mitchell Park. Voters are smart, they rejected it.

And, the voters may reject the new library with its large area set aside for "technical staff" and an unnecessary restaurant. Yes voters, you will be paying for a restaurant!!

And, by the way, Council did approve this design on Monday night.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 10:56 am


I actually think a restaurant is a good idea at the community centre. It provides one stop entertainment. You could walk /bike to the community center do a class, have lunch, then visit the library and then walk home. What a pleasant thought.

Like this comment
Posted by Gotta drink
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 1:14 pm

The food area is in the library not the community center.
Some of us think we have to eat or drink every hour or we are being deprived. We carry water bottles so that godforbid we might have to survive without water for 2 hours.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2007 at 2:12 pm

We do not need a new Mitchell Park library. We need to have the old and outdated books removed and replaced by updated material. There is absolutely no reason why we need a new building in order to provide better library services to the community. Don't be fooled by the spin doctors who are being paid a fortune to convince you that you need this new library building. Vote NO.

Like this comment
Posted by Benjamin
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2007 at 1:08 am

The Mitchell Park Library is an embarrassment, and needs to be brought up to speed in a way that will help bolster our entire library system. the aisles aren't even wheelchair accessible.

I wonder if "Resident" has even been to Mitchell. Further, I have yet to see one post by Resident where s/he supports any money being spent on city infrastructure.

Tell me, Resident, where will we put all your new books when the library falls down.

It's time for a reality check.

Anyone doubting my words, go visit Mitchell Park Library on a weekday - it's a zoo, and badly in need of updating.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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