The need for more community outreach was a dominant theme at the kick-off public meeting Thursday for the to rebuild the El Cerrito Library.
The newly formed citizens committee called "El Cerrito New Library Community Campaign" heard a large number of suggestions from the approximately 20 people who gathered for its first public gathering Thursday night at the current library on Stockton Avenue.
"What we're trying to do is create focus and support for a new library," said Tom Panas, a committee member who served as moderator of the meeting.
He noted that a 2006 "needs assessment" report by a San Francisco-based library consulting firm, Page + Moris, found that the current library is only a third as large as it should be. The report recommended that the current 6,500-square-foot library be replaced by a new 21,626-square-foot facility.
A man in the audience said, "It's hard to sit in this building without realizing you need a new library."
The current library opened in 1949 and was expanded in 1960.
Cost and how to pay for it
Though Panas told the gathering that the purpose of the Thursday night meeting was chiefly how to create a process for the campaign rather than building the library itself, the questions of how much it would cost and where to put it nevertheless were raised.
El Cerrito's assistant city manager, Karen Pinkos, said an estimate made in 2007 for a 20,000-square-foot building complete with library equipment and supplies was between $18 million and $20 million.
"That's kind of the target we're aiming at," she said.
The city, which owns the library building and takes care of maintaining it, is a key player in the process. The Contra Costa County Library provides funding for staffing the library 35 hours a week and for a base level of library materials and equipment, including technology, according to Gail McPartland, deputy county librarian, who also attended the meeting.
Pinkos said the funding would likely need to be a combination of donations and city residents being willing to pay extra taxes.
A number of potential locations were mentioned, including its current city-owned lot, which would be a challenge for an expanded single-story facility with adequate parking. A two-story structure would require more costly structural reinforcement and extra staffing.
Pinkos said another possibility might be the flat area on Moeser Lane next to the Community Center now being used for the temporary buildings housing Portola Middle School. That property, part of the old Portola Middle School site, belongs to the West Contra Costa Unified School District, and El Cerrito is considering whether the city might acquire it, Pinkos said.
Locating the library next to the Civic Center and across the street from Cerrito Vista Park could be an ideal solution, though there would be a delay in its availability. It's currently being used by Portola students, and when their new school is completed, it is expected to be used by displaced students from Fairmont Elementary School while that school is rebuilt, Pinkos said.
Another location suggested at the meeting was the empty Mayfair lot, a block north of the del Norte BART station on San Pablo Avenue. Pinkos said a number of variables would need to be considered for that location.
Resident Peter Loubal asked if the Tradeway site next to City Hall could be available if the current plan for senior housing on the site fails to secure enough financing. Pinkos said the site is committed to senior housing.
Another person asked about the now empty Safeway building at Moeser Lane and San Pablo Avenue, a location nominated by a reader on El Cerrito Patch. Pinkos said that location is "not an option."
She said the former Safeway property is privately owned, that Safeway has a long-term lease on the empty building and that Safeway is currently negotiating with possible tenants, including fitness clubs and retailers. Safeway moved out of the building a year ago when it on San Pablo Avenue and Hill Street.
When someone in the group asked how long it might be before ground could be broken, Panas and Pinkos indicated that four to five years could be possible, though when questioned, Pinkos acknowledged that five years is "optimistic."
"We really need to push on doing outreach," said Panas, who asked the group for ideas on how to spread the word.
Suggestions included posters in stores and taking the message to various organizations and groups, including PTAs, city boards and commissions, the Farmer's Market, Solano Stroll, radio station KECG at El Cerrito High School, adult education and literacy programs, and local schools including private and parochial.
Panas said the committee hopes also to work with local civic groups like the Rotary Club, the Garden Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
Panas noted also that the committee gathered many ideas and suggestions from community members at its booth at the city's July 4th festival and has posted the results on the committee's Web site.
Committee member Al Miller, who noted group suggestions on sheets of poster paper during the meeting, stressed the importance of soliciting community input at the beginning. "The more information you get in at the beginning of the process, the more chance we have to get a library we love."
The New Library Campaign will hold another public meeting to gather suggestions and ideas on Aug. 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the library.
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