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City Libraries Are Branching Out

Dozens of Facilities Will Be Rebuilt, Remodeled or Added


By spring, Kathy Zahrt and Donna Robins' favorite library will close for a year, forcing them to go elsewhere to quench their thirst for murder mysteries and World War II novels.

But the temporary inconvenience for the two friends--and thousands of other library patrons--will ultimately lead to bigger, modernized facilities. The Arroyo Seco Branch Library is part of a massive library construction program under way throughout the city.

Within three years, 32 Los Angeles public libraries will be remodeled or rebuilt and four new library branches will be added to the city thanks to a $178.3-million voter-approved bond measure in 1998.

"It's transformational, and I'm not being glib here," said City Librarian Susan Kent, who oversees the city's 68 libraries and four bookmobiles. "Because of the support of voters, we have the opportunity to rebuild libraries and create new libraries in places that haven't had any before. I know of no other library system in the U.S. that's doing this kind of infrastructure work. It's pretty astounding."

All 32 citywide projects, which include four new branch libraries in the Pico-Union, Playa Vista, Westwood and Edendale areas, are being funded by Proposition DD.

Additional funding for four branch libraries in Lake View Terrace, Studio City, Koreatown and South-Central is coming from government grants and private fund-raising efforts.

The new Studio City branch is due to open in February, and work is well under way on many others. The 1960s-era Pacoima Branch Library has been torn down to make way for a new facility on the same site, and groundbreaking for the new Lake View Terrace branch at Hansen Dam is slated for December.

Construction on the Arroyo Seco Branch and four others--Woodland Hills, Palms, Palisades and South-Central--is expected to begin in April.

The size of many libraries will increase, while others will get more parking or community meeting rooms. The city also has allocated $1 million for new books for four of the first branches to open in late 2001 or early 2002--Pacoima, Baldwin Hills, Jefferson in South-Central and Pio Pico-Koreatown--and library officials said they will request more money to fill shelves of other expanded libraries as they near completion.

Although new or improved libraries are the good news, the downside is that many branches will be closed for at least a year during construction.

Trailers or "library express stations" will be installed at some locations, including Pacoima, Palisades and two in South-Central. They will be open six days a week for four hours in the afternoon.

Other neighborhoods may be serviced by a bookmobile, library officials said. Temporary libraries also may be run from a room in a recreation center. The Baldwin Hills branch will use a room at Rancho Cienega Park, and the Arroyo Seco branch will take over space at the Highland Park Senior Citizen Center.

The Arroyo Seco Branch Library is due to close in February or March for construction expected to start in April. The $3.5-million project is scheduled to take about 15 months, officials said.

Maynor Najera, a student at Glendale Community College who uses the Arroyo Seco library every other day, said the closure will be an annoyance.

"My house is only a few blocks away, and I'll either have to stay and use the college library or travel a lot farther," Najera said.

Fontayne Holmes, library facilities director, said if construction was staggered, it would take 12 years instead of six to finish all projects citywide.

"We see an urgency to provide the public with what they voted for and what the library system needs," Holmes said. "It's a major inconvenience, and we don't like closing libraries for 14 or 15 months. But if you look at the long-term benefits, it more than balances the scales."

Although library officials haven't been able to deal with every concern, they have made a concerted effort to get the public's input regarding design, size and placement of the rebuilt facilities.

When patrons of the Arroyo Seco branch said they wanted a parking lot, library officials complied.

"We're trying to balance all these different concerns and needs and make as many people happy as possible," said Peter V. Persic, spokesman for the L.A. Public Library.

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