Thursday, May 10, 2007

Library gets money to make 'health and safety' repairs

May 10, 2007

Deteriorated. Outdated. Ill-kept. Dilapidated. Tired. Shoddy. Threadbare.

CHARLIE NEUMAN / Union-Tribune
The Escondido library got $400,000 for repairs, but it says it needs more to update services such as more computers with Internet access for D'ellis Foret and other residents.
Those are some of the words used to describe Escondido's main library, Stan Levy, president of the library's board of trustees, told City Council members yesterday.

The council unanimously approved spending $400,000 on immediate repairs, and members said they will keep in mind that the library needs a more extensive overhaul that will cost about $1.3 million.

“Let's get the work done,” Councilman Ed Gallo said in approving the money for the most-needed renovations.

Yesterday's decision represented a shift of focus by the city after years of trying to build a new library.

The $400,000 will pay for “health and safety” fixes, librarian Laura Mitchell said. That includes repairing elevators that grunt and screech, ceiling tiles damaged by roof leaks and old air-conditioning units that likely won't survive the summer without breaking down.

Other repairs needed at the 27-year-old library include: renovations of public restrooms; new lighting, window coverings, carpet, paint and tables and more chairs; an expanded parking lot; moving the historic Woman's Club building away from the library site; a new main entrance; and an exterior paint job. The cost for that work will be addressed in the budget for next fiscal year.

The money for the immediate improvements and the more extensive ones would come from $10.4 million in a capital reserve fund that had been earmarked for a new library slated to cost about $30 million. The city planned to use its money as the required matching funds for a state grant that never materialized.

The city's library opened in 1980, when people still checked out record albums, Mitchell said. Since then, it has grown to serve more than 2,500 people a day.

Beginning in 2000, the city and library staffs focused on applying for state grants for a new library, which left the needs of the existing library largely unaddressed.

But after two unsuccessful bids for a state grant, followed by a state library bond measure that voters rejected last year, and no new funding prospects in sight, the city has instead decided to fix the library it has.

“A new library is five, seven, maybe 10 years away,” said Don Anderson, director of community services. “We must bring back what we have now.”

The dream for a new library is not dead, Mitchell said. But now the focus must be on upgrading the old library, not only in looks but also in function.

For example, more automated services found in modern libraries are needed, such as more computers with Internet access, a modern phone system, self-service kiosks and microfiche data in a digital format.

“It's got some problems,” Patrick Molenaar said while visiting the library yesterday with daughters Lily, 7, and Sasha, 4. The three check out books about once a month, Molenaar said, but often have to wait for computers and don't use the elevator because of the noises it makes.

“I'd like to see something similar like the nicer libraries in town,” said Molenaar, who added that he often goes to the newer county library in San Marcos, even though it's farther away.

“It's not the standard that the people of Escondido deserve in their library,” Mitchell said.

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