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Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 28, 2013

Palo Alto breaks ground on Main Library expansion

Renovation to bring new teen center, air conditioning and road between parking lots

by Rye Druzin

Launching a renovation project that's expected to add space and bring cooler temperatures to the 55-year-old Main Library, Palo Alto Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd on Tuesday officially broke ground on a $17.7 million project.

The project is set to be completed in December 2014.

"Today is a great day because it's sort of the beginning of the end," Shepherd said, referring to the fact that Main is the last of the city's five library branches to be renovated.

The expanded library will feature a host of modern amenities, including a 4,000-square-foot addition that will house four group-study rooms and a teen center. The facility will also get a new electrical system that will be able to handle the computer needs of patrons. Skylights in the ceiling, which were installed in the 1980s, will be removed and the roof line will be restored to its original condition.

A new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system will make the library more energy efficient, a requirement if the library is to get Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Forty-nine wells will be drilled in the east parking lot to a depth of 350 feet, and fluid will be pumped into the wells to be heated or cooled and then circulated back into the library.

"Adding air conditioning will be a huge benefit because there have been times when we've closed the library because it's too hot," Library Director Monique le Conge said. "And if it's too hot in the public area it's been too hot in the staff area for a much longer time."

A new road will allow for cars to drive from the library's east parking lot to the south parking lot. Currently cars must exit onto Newell Road in order to get from one parking lot to the other.

The library's south entrance, facing the Palo Alto Arts Center, will also be changed to facilitate a more natural-looking link between the two.

As the renovation of the Main Library begins, construction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center on the other side of town has been fraught with delays. It was scheduled to be completed in 2012, but continuous setbacks have forced the City to push the opening date back to the end of this year.

Shepherd said the Main Library project will mirror the College Terrace Library renovation more than the Mitchell Park library, where the entire structure was completely demolished and is being built from scratch.

She told the Weekly she was confident that the Main Library project would be completed on time and on budget.

According to Matt Raschke, the city's project manager for the Main Library, the renovation will face some difficulties because of the historic structure, which must remain intact. This creates the challenge of retrofitting a structure built in 1958 to meet today's technological needs and seismic requirements.

Editorial Intern Rye Druzin can be emailed at


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2013 at 9:41 am

Beginning of the end?????

Perhaps that is right, but not in the way she meant.

Mitchell Park is far from done and the end is not in sight.

Another charming building in Palo Alto is torn down and the replacement will not have charm, character or even be necessary as a "library".

Sad day.

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

Resident - the Main Library is not being torn down, it is being renovated and an addition is being built.

Posted by Response to Shepherd's quote, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2013 at 10:52 am

From the article:

Shepard said she thought the Main Library project would mirror the College Terrace Library more than the Mitchell Park library, where the entire structure was completely demolished and built from scratch.

She told the Weekly she was confident that the project would be completed on time and on budget.

"Everyone knows that it's easier to build from scratch than peel everything out, and gut and put it all back again," Shepherd said.

Here last two quotes contradict each other. If it were really easier to build from scratch, then the Mitchell Park should be on time and on budget. But the contradiction really points out Public Works Department's incompetence in overseeing construction projects. There is inadequate review of designs, inadequate monitoring of projects, and inadequate oversight of change orders.

The Council should request the City Auditor perform a full review of the Public Works Department construction management practices (remember what happened when the Utilities Department was audited some years ago), with particular focus on the screw ups of the Mitchell Park Library project. But the pending potential litigation means it'll probably just be swept under the rug again.

Posted by Year and a half, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

It's amusing to hear Nancy Shepherd predict the future with such certainty. Nonsense.
A year and a half?! That allows plenty of time for screwups and restarts. And nap time on the job.

Posted by police st, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm

new libraeries resemble processing centers. police station right across street. library looks like airline terminal! may i inspect your bags sir? no? ,well we must go across street and fetch the police.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm

They held a ceremony? Amazing. They should have been hidden away in shame somewhere... They're messing up the city from gross monsterous libraries, to gross monsterous develoopments on alma, to messed up dense housing on Maybell, to unbelievably arrogant traffic mess on Arastradero... and they hold a ceremony. Its incredible. Since Nancy is so good at predicting the future, did she happen to predict when the mitchell park library would be completed?

Posted by litebug, a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

(former 38 year P.A. resident) Thank you, Parent, for helping cure any homesickness I had for P.A. Actually, I find that most of it is for the Santa Cruz mountains and the little towns there, coastside, Santa Cruz and HMB rather than Palo Alto. It was already well on the way of being ruined before I moved in 2008 and everything I've read and seen has been head-shakingly disappointing. Glad I had the pleasure of living there while it was still a great place because in later years...not so much. Developers run and ruin the city.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Using the new Mitchell Park Library as a timetable, the renovations should be complete sometime around the year 2024.

That will be just in time for the period when eReaders replace all books in Palo Alto public libraries.


Posted by James, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Would it not have made more sense to wait for the opening of Mitchell Park library
Before shutting down Main??? To me, that's a no brainier!!! Mitchell Park is now set
to open when, October???

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Which do you think will open sooner, the new Bay Bridge section or the Mitchell Park Library or this Main Library remodel? I'm guessing none of the above. We will probably have a major earthquake before any of them open.

Posted by Rachel Carson, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I'm glad we're investing in a LEED building to reduce the environmental impact of the library but what about the surrounding environment? The million dollar road to connect the two parking lots is an environmental disaster, unnecessary and a waste of public money. It is very rare when either parking lot is filled to capacity. It is also very likely to increase the cut through traffic from Embarcadero to Newell which is a much bigger safety issue for cyclists on Newell then the problem this new road portends to resolve.

The road will destroy a beautiful pastoral setting where the library gardens connect with the community gardens, home to song birds, squirrels and butterflies. If this was designated parkland that was being paved there would be a huge uproar. The council voted down the Parks and Rec commission's recommendation for a pedestrian/bikeway. The Parks and Rec commission opposed the road.

In addition the two lane road will travel over the root systems of heritage oaks and redwood trees jeopardizing their health. Other younger trees and a section of the community garden will also be removed and the community gardens will loose the green buffer they currently enjoy from auto noise and pollution.

If you want to create a campus feeling, eliminate the cars like they do on college campuses, don't encourage more car trips and don't pave paradise.

Posted by Mary Ann Michel, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

Horrors...thought it was a remodel of Main Library and the fence that has been put up blocks much lawn and parking. The building on the corner of Lytton and Alma is working in much less space for a much bigger project. In addition the north end of the garden access is closed. Surely this is over kill. When will the building start? Giving up so much space for a year or two,(conservative estimate?) is very disappointing. Is it too late to alter the fencing?

Posted by observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm

“A new road will allow for cars to move from the east parking lot to the south parking lot. Currently cars must drive around the library on Newell in order to get from one parking lot to the other.”

I used to drive into the “road” off Newell between the library and the art center and go straight through to the parking lot off El Camino, and vice versa. Is that no longer possible? I never considered it to be going “around the library."

From city’s press release at Web Link

"Libraries are so important to the character of Palo Alto, and we are excited to begin the process of transforming the Main Library into a more modern 21st century facility while still retaining its historic beauty and presence," said Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd. "As a testament to the sound fiscal management, the City recently received the highest Triple A bond rating for the general obligation bonds for the Main Library Project, and that will save money.”