Guest Opinion | February 22, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 22, 2013

Guest Opinion

Believe me, sooner or later the Mitchell Park library will open

by Alison Cormack

"The library looks beautiful! When is it going to open?"

This is how nine out of 10 of my conversations around town start. I love hearing the first part and dread answering the second part. The Mitchell Park Library and Community Center does look beautiful, on the inside and the outside. But it is not done and there is, unfortunately, no firm date for it to open.

I toured Mitchell Park last month with the city manager, the library director, the director of Public Works, and the city's point person for the project. It is as spacious and interesting as the plans imagined it to be and I am confident that it will be a center of learning for decades to come. But I am as disappointed as everyone else involved with the project that the construction is so far behind schedule.

Here's what I found out about why it's behind and what the city has done.

The city, like all cities in California, is bound by law to accept the lowest bid. That came from Flintco, which was qualified to bid earlier in the process. Flintco's bid was millions of dollars below the engineer's estimate and the other bids. It is apparently not unusual for contractors to bid low to win the business and then use the change-order process to increase the price. Indeed, change orders related to the steel in the plans were the first slowdown in the project.

Next came issues with the steel supplier and the glass installation. The current problem is that the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system is not passing inspection. Interestingly, bids from the other contractors used the same subcontractors, so we might have had similar issues even with a different general contractor.

I want to stop at this point and emphasize something important. At each juncture, the city has consciously chosen quality over schedule. So, when the glass failed repeated inspections, nothing moved forward until it passed. I am personally happy with this approach since we are investing a great deal of resources into the building and I want it to last for many years, but it comes at the cost of time.

So what has the city done to address the situation? Both the Flintco site manager and the construction-management firm's site manager have been replaced. The city has used a progressive inspection approach, where appropriate, to speed completion and is ordering the custom casework and furniture so it is ready to go in as soon as the air system is functioning. The contractor is already on notice that they are responsible for daily liquidated damages of $2,500 since April 29, 2012, the original projected completion date.

Currently, Flintco is undergoing management and ownership changes at the corporate level, so that is another complication preventing an accurate schedule of completion. I have jokingly suggested getting kids to stand in front of the construction site and hold up a sign saying "Flintco, when will our library be ready?" to add to the pressure to get this building done so we can use it. It's possible that it could open in the spring, but every day that goes by without progress makes summer look more realistic. So, at this point, no one can really answer the question, "When will it open?" Fortunately, the temporary library for Mitchell Park at Cubberley is proving to be popular in the interim.

Keep in mind that Mitchell Park is just one of the three projects funded by the bond in 2008. The first project, the Downtown Library, reopened on time in 2011. It is thriving, as these statistics comparing the last six months of 2012 over the last six months of 2011 reveal:

• Circulation of 56,000 items, an increase of 42 percent;

• Branch visits up 32 percent;

• The program and community rooms booked 589 times.

The third project, in chronological order, is the Main Library. It will close May 1 to be entirely renovated and expanded. The city is making reasonable efforts to avoid similar problems with the Main project. They have hired a different construction-management firm, one with a successful track record with other city projects, and that firm is already reviewing the architectural plans in detail. The temporary library for Main will be conveniently located in the Art Center.

Let's also review the expenses. The 2008 bond authorized up to $76 million. Downtown came in $1 million under budget, Mitchell Park is projected to be $4.7 million under budget, and Main is projected to be $2.6 million over budget, due to changes in the landscaped and parking area and the need to replace, not repair, the roof. So, in total, the projects should be completed for less than what was approved.

In other financial news, the $4 million fundraising campaign is just $25,000 away from being complete. The Palo Alto Library Foundation has already received 33 generous $25,000 gifts, so just one more and we're done. The public bond money can only be used for design and construction, so the private PALF funds are paying for the furniture, computers, books and more at all three libraries.

Thanks to everyone in the community for your continued support of these exciting and important projects. Believe me, I know how hard it is to wait for that beautiful building to open, but I am glad that it will be carefully built to last for many years.

Alison Cormack chaired the library bond drive in 2008 and is the co-chair of the Palo Alto Library Foundation fundraising campaign. She lives in south Palo Alto with her husband and two children.


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Posted by Alison Cormack
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

Two quick updates on this topic. First, the city's report from February 11th shows that construction should be complete in June and that Mitchell Park will open to the public in "late 2013."

Second, I am delighted to announce that the Palo Alto Library Foundation has completed our $4 million fundraising campaign! We are extraordinarily grateful to our hundreds of donors for their generosity. (And we'll still be accepting gifts through the end of the year.)

Thank you again to the thousands of people who voted for the bond and the hundreds of people who donated to our campaign.

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Posted by Library User
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I am not sure if I would call it a beautiful building, but it is not as bad as some that are around town. The most I have heard it called is Ikea, South Palo Alto.

I was very disappointed that a book I recently requested the library to acquire because I enjoyed watching it on PBC was refused, due to it being a British book. Call the Midwife. Season 2 will be showed on PBS shortly and is very popular to the PBS audience. The notion that the book a PBS show is based on is not worth buying really surprises me.

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Posted by Not so bad
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm

The new library isn't good looking, but it isn't all that bad, either. As it is some distance from the sidewalk, it isn't in your face, like the JCC.

My worry is that not many people use libraries any more, as they are rather inconvenient and limited compared to the Internet or e-books. This may have been a huge waste of money, resources, and real estate.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm

To Library User,

Have you tried to find your book through LINK+? The library is a member of this service that lets you check out books from many different library systems in California, for free. The way it works is you check it out online and it gets delivered to Main Library for you to pick up. I just got a hard-to-find book from a library near San Diego.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The voters drank the kool aid provided by comack et al. Now we are paying the price. We need 5 libraries like we need a hole in the head. Another sinkhole for our money.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

If Flintco is responsible for $2,500 per day since April 29,2012 in liquidated damages, they'll owe over a million before the Mitchell Park Library opens. What are the chances the City collects any of this?

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm

The main library will be closing before this one is opened? Who planned that? Does not sound like a smart move. Will there be a temporary main library?

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Posted by Pffffff
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm

1) The new building is actually UGLY.

2) If we were reasonable, we would not have razed what we had, but fixed it, strengthened it and added on to it.

Unfortunately, people were taken in, because the old nice, elegant, Mitchell Park Library was allowed to go without routine maintenance and its paint was peeling, which unenlightened voters mistook for a sign that it had to be razed and rebuilt.

This town has become hopeless.

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Posted by Nearby neighbor
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The temporary replacement library at Cubberley is just fine. I don't think we need this expensive boondoggle in Mitchell Park. I'm very happy using the Cubberley temporary replacement. Let's sell Mitchell Park Library and keep on using Cubberley!!!

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Posted by about library
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm

>Main is projected to be $2.6 million over budget, due to changes in the landscaped and parking area and the need to replace, not repair, the roof.
The architect didn't know the roof needed replacement? Excuse me?

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Posted by Infrequent guest
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 24, 2013 at 12:33 am

@Library User: The Santa Clara County Library System has 10 copies of Call the Midwife. Web Link

I visit libraries regularly. My favorite is Los Altos - for their collection, availability, and ambiance. No doubt the new Mitchell Park Library will be an improvement over Palo Alto's current dismal library system, but the collection would also have to improve to make it worth the visit.

The Downtown branch offers a creative variety of adult and teen programs. Palo Alto's libraries have some redeeming qualities, but the collection is not one of them.

Yes, you can always order materials from far away places -- you can do that from any library -- but isn't it nice to browse a well-stocked shelf for an unexpected treasure? Hard to do when you've got 5 libraries to stock.

What's the promised benefit of thinly-stocked shelves? You get to walk to them.

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Posted by Ooooooolala
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Does no one remember that the OLD Mitchell Park Library smelled moldy and musty? That is a good indication of mold in the walls, nearly impossible to get rid of.

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Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2013 at 12:46 pm

@Not so bad

Case for more Public Libraries:

While PA is a relatively well-to-do town by national standards, there are plenty of unemployed and/or poor people living in the town. The costs of devices/internet/e-books that might not make a difference to the many users would certainly constitute an additional barrier to use for not so well-to-do

This would be even more the case for young people. Given the overwhelming proof that library use makes better readers, higher achievers, and more successful workers, we want our young people to feel comfortable coming into their local library

Libraries provide all residents with unlimited access to the reading and information resources that will mean the difference between success and failure for all PA residents as individuals, PAas a town, and the United States as a nation. They are supported by a very modest contribution of public tax funds, and provide a fabulous return on this investment by any measure.

Sure, the library is an old fashioned concept. So is democracy. So is equal opportunity. So is getting your facts right.

P.S. I don't agree in many istances with with how PA Library is run & decisions made

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Posted by The Obvious
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2013 at 10:24 am

The problem is that the City exempted prevailing wage on this project. Research shows that when you remove prevailing wage protections you increase risk on your project, get more cost overruns, more delays and more problems and lower qualified workforce. This project is a perfect example of that. The City needs to correct this problem by reinstating a prevailing wage policy for the Main Library or this disaster could happen all over again.

A similar library project was completed on time and on budget in Gilroy with many times more local contractors. On the Mitchell Park Library in Palo Alto, built without prevailing wage, 11.7% of the total project value went to local contractors. On the similarly-sized Gilroy Public Library, built with prevailing wage, 71.2% of the total project value went to local contractors.
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