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The Valley

Library Checks Out for Reopening

October 28, 2002|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

Frank Navarro furiously scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad as he walked through the $3.6-million renovated and expanded West Valley Regional Library in Reseda.

As senior librarian, Navarro wanted to take note of every detail as library staff and construction crews put the finishing touches on the library before its grand reopening Wednesday.

The modern steel and glass structure on Vanowen Street is the latest Los Angeles Public Library branch completed with funding from a $178.3-million bond voters approved in 1998 to expand, renovate or rebuild 32 library branches citywide.

"Los Angeles has one of the largest public library systems in the United States, and a project of this magnitude is one that very few public libraries can undertake," said Jo Ann Pinder, president of the Public Library Assn., a division of the American Library Assn. "This can only set the bar higher for other library funding authorities to make sure that their facilities are the best they can be."

In the last four years, library officials have overseen the simultaneous construction of the 32 projects at sites stretching from San Pedro to Chinatown to Woodland Hills. An additional library is being planned for the harbor area as a result of savings and interest earned from the initial bond funds.

So far, six libraries have been completed and the remaining 27 facilities are either ahead of schedule or on schedule, library officials said. All construction is expected to be completed by 2005.

Construction of two libraries in the San Fernando Valley hit a snag last summer when the contractor walked off the job because of financial problems, said Fontayne Holmes, a director of the library's facilities division.

The contractor, Anderson/White of Orange County, notified its bond company, Hartford Fire Insurance Co., that it could not meet its contractual obligation to complete the Sun Valley and Chatsworth branch libraries, Holmes said. Work stalled for two months before resuming earlier this month after the insurance company and library officials hired another builder.

"We were quite frustrated by the delay," Holmes said. "But we were ahead of schedule on both projects, and we will be bringing them both in on schedule."

Meanwhile, West Valley Regional Library rolled toward completion as crews stripped the single-story structure to its steel beams, overhauled its interior and built a 1,500-square-foot addition.

The state-of-the-art facility includes the main library, a children's storytelling area with tiered seating, a teen area with leather and chrome chairs, 31 computers with Internet access and a community room with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows looking out onto a park and pine trees.

When the library reopens Wednesday, Navarro said he hopes the library's mix of aesthetics, resources and knowledgeable staff will attract readers from varying backgrounds who will embrace the library as a center of the community.

With its exposed beams, suspension lighting and inviting mint-and-mocha color scheme, Navarro hopes the library will draw upscale patrons whose tastes run toward trendy bookstore cafes.

The library's selection of educational audio books, videos and DVDs could lure younger readers who may be reluctant to pick up a book, Navarro said. "We may capture a child's attention with a popular book on tape, and then encourage them to read classic books with similar themes."

Teens should be pleased with their own reading area, computers with Internet access and a young adult librarian on staff, Navarro said. "Kids need quiet time away from siblings and friends," he said. "We want to make this a comfortable and safe place for them."

City Librarian Susan Kent said the best part of her job is welcoming patrons back to refurbished libraries across the city -- as she plans to do on Wednesday -- and seeing the excitement on their faces.

"I welcomed one little boy and his mother to one of the renovated library branches," she recalled. "After a few minutes, he came back to me and said, 'This is the best place in the whole world!' "

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