Preliminary conceptual plans for Signal Hill library promise more space and modern design

CJ Dablo/Signal Tribune<br><strong> Architect Robert R. Coffee explains the new design at a special Parks and Recreation meeting on Jan. 25.</strong>

CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

Signal Hill has spent more than a decade of planning to replace its tiny 4,234-square-foot library. Now, with the rollout of a conceptual design presented at a meeting last Wednesday night, the public had a chance to see what architect Robert R. Coffee imagines for the city– a high-tech library with more than three times the space.
Dozens of local residents packed into the City Council Chambers on Jan. 25 to see a conceptual design presented by Coffee during a special Parks and Recreation Commission meeting. The new building that will occupy over 15,000 square feet will replace the city’s current police station and library. The police station will be moving to a new building that is set to finish construction later this year. The current estimate to build the library totals over $7.6 million and assumes the year-long construction project will start January 2013, according to reports distributed at the meeting.
The library design features an expanse of windows, a courtyard, space for a children’s area, a teen area, a learning center, a historical museum, and design elements to celebrate the city’s historical ties to the oil industry.
The building is also expected to save on energy costs. Coffee explained that the building will be designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification, a high standard for energy efficiency in construction.
While many of the residents admired the overall look of the building at Wednesday night’s meeting, many wanted to talk about what they would be doing at the new library.
“I love books. I love libraries,” Cecilia Fidora said as she praised the design. She was happy to see a section towards the very back of the building where the library stacks would be placed.
But beyond providing public access to physical books, several residents emphasized the library’s use in the electronic age.
Another resident, Tom Benson, who also serves on the city’s planning commisssion, predicted that the library will likely be providing more software and subscriptions to its users. For his research, Benson downloaded books and magazines on his computer and sent the information to his Android phone and his Galaxy tablet pad.
There were residents, however, who acknowledged that the current library has been too small but that this is not the time to build.
“I’d hate for us to build something that will be obsolete before we have it finished,” said Linda Heeb, who says she’s a teacher. “Our children used to come to the library for research projects. We have the Internet now.”
There were other concerns raised by residents that additional staff would be needed to manage the new space. According to Community Services Director Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, the new library will be manned by the current staff.
Maria Harris, who belongs to a community organization called Signal Hill Community First, criticized the timing of a multi-million dollar construction project, noting that the City is having problems with its budget and Signal Hill may take on liabilities once the city’s redevelopment agency shuts down.
“Are we willing to take money from public safety– even if it’s just a $100,000 here or there– to fund [the library], to keep it going?” Harris asked. “So that we can have the hours to…keep it open, where in this day and age libraries are closing down and they’re cutting their hours?”
It is unclear whether funds for public safety will actually be affected by the library. The budget was not within the scope of the discussion for the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The City currently has an $8.8-million bond specifically for the library construction, but about 10 percent of that bond amount is set aside in reserve, according to City Finance Director Maida Alcantara in a telephone interview Thursday. There is also about $1.8 million in additional reserve money for the library, but Alcantara said that the City has not yet discussed whether they’ll use that additional reserve amount.
There were concerns raised that children are in the library, so close to homeless people who spend their days in the building. The community services director acknowledged that libraries everywhere serve a diverse cross-section of the population. She however emphasized that the library is meant for everyone.
“We strive to serve the community that comes in the door,” said Alcivar-McCoy, explaining how the staff tries to treat everyone with equal respect. “It’s for the public. It’s for anybody who comes in. Our job is to manage that and to ensure that people are using it appropriately and it’s safe and secure.”
Several of the concerns and questions raised on Wednesday were echoing the issues raised by Signal Hill Community First. The organization had distributed a flyer to residents which called the library project a “15,000 square foot Taj Mahal.”
That title irked Benson, who spoke up at the meeting to defend the project.
“Nobody’s ever talked about the Taj Mahal,” Benson said, blasting the tone of the flyer. “This has been a responsible project for the community.”
The City Council will discuss the library conceptual design at its meeting on Feb. 7.

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