Those hoping to see a new and larger public library in El Cerrito are seeking an alternative location to the small lot that has long been home of the old library next to the BART tracks on Stockton Avenue, former El Cerrito City Manager Gary Pokorny told the El Cerrito Rotary Thursday.
Pokorny, who's heading up fundraising for the fledgling campaign for a new library, said a few options are being considered but that the focus of the El Cerrito New Library Campaign right now is building awareness of the need for a new library and generating support.
One thing is certain, he told the Rotary Club of El Cerrito at its Thursday luncheon at the Mira Vista Golf and Country Club.
"I'm here to make you aware of a real need we have here in El Cerrito, a need for a new library," he said, outlining what's wrong with the current structure, which was built in 1949 and renovated in 1960.
"It's old, fully used up, technologically challenged," he said. "It has inadequate parking, sits right under the BART tracks ... It's too small. The roof leaks, and when we had our heavy rains a couple of weeks ago, the basement flooded. There was a about three inches of water in the basement. Those are only a few of things that are wrong with that library."
Rebuilding on the current site is the not the preferred option, Pokorny said. The small lot and the library building are owned by the city, while the staff and most of the materials are provided by the 26-branch Contra Costa County Library system. Materials are provided also by the nonprofit Friends of the El Cerrito Library.
"It would be very difficult in the place where it is now," Pokorny said. "The footprint of that building is very small. And the BART tracks make it less than optimal. I suppose if you had a really creative architect, you might be able to do something with a two- or three-story building. The parking problem would remain."
Another problem for multi-story libraries is the need for more staff to oversee them, library planners say.
"We haven't settled on a site yet," Pokorny said. "We have some ideas about what might be good, but there's no firm site yet. It's very early. The goal right now is raising awareness and getting people excited about the need, and talking to the council about it."
He urged those who want to see a new library to contact the City Council, especially during its formulation of the city's new Strategic Plan.
"They (the City Council) are going to be sitting down in January to set some priorities," Pokorny said. "... Talk to them. Let them know that you care about libraries and that a new library should be part of that process, should be a high priority for the city."
The council will hold a Strategic Plan study session from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 26 at City Hall to "finalize the vision statement and list of organizational goals, as well as develop goals and strategies," according to a city announcement. Those elements will then be put into a draft Strategic Plan to receive community input before being adopted by the council, according to the city.
The cost of a new library for El Cerrito is estimated to be $20-25 million, Pokorny said, and would require a bond for the land and building. Donations too would be needed for interior equipment and materials beyond what the county library could provide.
The new librarian of the El Cerrito Library, Liz Ruhland, also attended the luncheon and added a comment about the changes that contemporary libraries are undergoing as people read fewer books made of paper and make more use of digital materials.
"There will be over time, slowly less need for stacks," she said. "Hopefully print books won't go away entirely, but public libraries are changing and evolving."
Modern libraries contain more space for programming, such as story times and other programs that foster early literacy, as well as lifelong learning opportunities for adults, including cultural programming, she said.
New libraries also incorporate group meeting rooms and more computing space, both for use of the library's computers and for patrons to bring their own laptops and tablets for a place to plug in and obtain Internet access, she said.
Pokorny urged those who would like to be kept informed about the new library initiative to sign up at the El Cerrito New Library Community Campaign website to receive updates and the newsletter.