Two site options
Assistant Library Director Nick Szegda told the roughly 70 attendees that there are two possible sites for the proposed new library at the Civic Center campus: at its current location on Alma Street, or shifted closer to Laurel Street.
He and Chris Noll, architectural consultant from the firm Noll & Tam, also presented preliminary maps of how both sites could be configured to allow housing in addition to new council chambers, and possibly a new child care center.
According to a study completed by Noll & Tam last March, the expressed desires of residents in the community for more study and group-meeting areas at the library equate to new demands for about 12,000 new square feet of library space.
At both possible sites, the city could plan for underground parking and a new 4,000-square-foot "community hall" that might operate as new council chambers. Housing might be added at either site as an adjacent building with 30 to 40 affordable apartments up to four stories tall, according to early staff maps.
If the Laurel Street site were used, and the city were to decide to add below-market-rate housing, the footprint of that new structure might require the current Menlo Children's Center to be demolished. A number of parents of children attending day care there who attended the meeting objected to that option.
Staff emphasized that if the city were to move forward with that option, there would be an interim day care site and a new facility built.
Under that scenario, the city would not have to establish a temporary library facility during construction; that option also would require more underground parking, and about 30 to 35 trees would have to be removed, according to staff.
If the Alma Street site were used, the child care center could stay in its current location, but the temporary library facility that would have to be installed during construction would cost an estimated $1 million, and some 15 to 20 trees would have to be removed.
Other questions remain unanswered: environmental analyses have not yet been done to indicate what the impacts of each site option might be on local traffic patterns. And since the City Council hasn't yet picked a preferred option for how to separate Ravenswood Avenue from the Caltrain rails, it's not known how a grade separation might impact Alma Street access.
Study of the proposed project is on an expedited timeline because local philanthropist and developer John Arrillaga has offered to help fund the construction costs of a new library after the city spends the first $20 million — plus "soft costs" of an unknown amount, currently projected to be about $10 million — with an expectation that the city move forward as quickly as possible on the project.
But the funding offer doesn't extend to the costs for other possible uses at the library beyond the proposed multi-purpose "community hall"; those uncovered uses being discussed as possibilities include affordable housing and child care facilities, Mr. Szegda said. If the city wants to install affordable housing on the site, it's not known where funding would come from.
The funding question
Although questions in a 2017 survey by Godbe Research were calibrated to ascertain public opinion regarding a possible 2020 ballot measure to help generate funds for the new library, City Manager Alex McIntyre confirmed that the city would need to pass a revenue measure in 2018 in order to continue at full speed with the proposed, but not yet approved, library project.
The Godbe polling results indicate that there may not be enough support to pass a bond measure, which requires approval from two-thirds of voters.
Another option Godbe Research floated to survey respondents was the possibility of an increase in the utility users tax, which fared more favorably with possible voters.
The goal of such a measure would be for the city to raise $50 million from public sources (bond revenue or higher taxes), $30 million of which would go to the main library and $20 million of which would go toward the Belle Haven branch library, Mr. McIntyre said.
Plans aren't far along enough yet to know where or how big a Belle Haven library would be, though. The city is currently working with consultants on a study to determine what the needs of a Belle Haven library might be.
The city still needs to gather more information and conduct more polling to see what residents think, Mr. McIntyre said.
The question of why a new library is needed was posed more than once during the meeting. When asked why people don't just use other group meeting rooms in the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center, Mr. Szegda said that those rooms are often booked months in advance, and are intended more for exercise groups or classes, rather than educational programs.
If and when the funding is secured and the project is approved, the work will likely take three years: 18 months to go through the design process and another 18 months to build the project.
A third meeting to talk about the proposed library's possible siting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, in the library at 800 Alma St.
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