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Valley Libraries Branching Out in Building Boom

Services: In a massive citywide project, dozens of facilities will be rebuilt, remodeled and added. Many will be closed during construction.

October 02, 2000|STEPHANIE STASSEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By spring, DeAnna Ashton's favorite library will close for a year, forcing her to go elsewhere to quench her thirst for murder mysteries.

The West Valley Regional Branch Library, which she visits every two weeks, will be renovated and improved, with more computers, wheelchair-accessible restrooms and a large community room for special programs that now must be held in the middle of the children's section.

"It's a bummer because it's so easy for me," said Ashton, a home health-care nurse who stops by the library in Reseda while visiting nearby patients. "But they need to redo it so it will be more inviting."

The West Valley Regional Branch upgrade is one of 14 planned San Fernando Valley library construction projects that, along with seven newer branches, will give the area 21 modernized facilities. All construction is due to be completed by late 2003, officials said.

"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."

Twelve of the 14 Valley projects are being funded by Proposition DD, a $178.3-million library bond measure that voters approved in 1998 to refurbish or rebuild 32 libraries citywide. Funding for a new branch library in Lake View Terrace is coming from grants and a landfill trust fund, and a rebuilt Studio City branch is being funded by savings from a $53.4-million library bond passed in 1989.

Studio City Branch to Open in February

The new Studio City branch is due to open in February, and work is well underway on many others. The 1960s-era Pacoima Branch Library, for one, 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 scheduled for December.

In addition, construction on the West Valley Regional Branch and seven others--Woodland Hills, North Hollywood Regional, Valley Plaza, Sun Valley, Sherman Oaks, Sylmar and Encino-Tarzana--is expected to begin next year. And groundbreaking is planned for three others--Northridge, Chatsworth and Canoga Park--in 2002.

The size of many libraries will increase, in many cases doubling, while others will get additional 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 and Pio Pico Koreatown--and library officials said they will request more money to fill shelves of other expanded libraries as they get closer to 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, forcing patrons to go elsewhere for books.

Trailers will be installed at some Valley locations--Pacoima's 500-square-foot temporary facility, for example, will open around mid-October. Other neighborhoods may be serviced by a bookmobile, library officials said. In rare cases, a temporary library may be run from a room in a recreation center.

Officials said leasing storefront space is unlikely because of the high cost, not to mention the difficulty in securing a one-year lease.

"By the time we do the tenant improvements, it could cost up to $500,000 and take four to five months. We don't want to make an investment in a temporary facility when we'd rather spend our money on branch libraries," Kent said. "It doesn't seem like a good use of taxpayers' money."

The West Valley Regional Branch is due to close in March or April in anticipation of construction expected to start in May. The project is scheduled to take 15 months, with reopening planned for August 2002, officials said.

Frequent patron Tucker Smallwood said the closure of the regional library will be an annoyance.

"Those of us who use the library will be disadvantaged and inconvenienced," Smallwood said. "I can't imagine why they are doing these all at the same time."

Fontayne Holmes, library facilities director who is overseeing the projects, said if construction were staggered so closure dates didn't coincide, it would take 12 years instead of six to finish all projects citywide. Escalating construction costs and inflation would also become a problem.

"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."

Public Input Has Been Sought

Keith Watts, president of the Friends of the Chatsworth Library, said he hoped a trailer would be set up while that library is rebuilt, something library officials said is unlikely.

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