The West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library was closed May 7 in preparation for construction, nearly four years after a city measure was first approved by voters to upgrade the branch.
The Berkeley City Council approved construction for the branch on May 15 and the West Bay Builders will commence construction on the branch in the coming weeks, beginning with the demolition of the current structure. The new library is expected to take 12 months to build and is slated for a prospective opening in late summer 2013, according to Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil.
The West Branch, located on University and San Pablo avenues, is one of four public libraries in Berkeley which was granted funds for renovation in November 2008 when voters approved Measure FF. Under the measure, the city’s four library branches would receive a combined $26 million for renovations, expansions, seismic retrofits and other improvements.
“The project has a hard cost construction budget of $5,985,000 and an inclusive site budget of $7,504,616, not including furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E),” reads a May 15 press release concerning construction on the West branch.
Because the measure prevents municipal funds from paying for furniture, fixtures and equipment in the libraries, the Berkeley Public Library Foundation has undertaken the fundraising efforts to pay for such materials, according to the foundation’s executive director Kirsten Cowan.
“So far we have raised $2.5 million of the $3.5 million we hope to raise from the community,” Cowan said. “This money has come from a wide variety of sources — individual folks in Berkeley, foundations, corporations and businesses.”
The $3.5 million amount covers supplies, computers, furniture, rugs and all other non-construction items that will be provided within the four libraries once renovation is complete.
Exactly how the funds from Measure FF would be used became a source of controversy shortly after its passage, when a group of community members known as the Concerned Library Users filed a lawsuit questioning the legality of using funds from the measure to demolish the West and South branches, since the measure does not specifically mention the demolition of buildings.
After nearly a year of back-and-forth between the city and the CLU, the lawsuit was finally settled in September last year, with the city — in exchange for the CLU not challenging the city’s library projects any further — agreeing to pay $100,000 to the National Trust for Historical Preservation to use for a grants program to improve historical buildings in West and South Berkeley.
The new West Branch Library building, which has been designed by Southern California-based Harley Ellis Devereaux with Greenworks Studio, will include state of the art facilities such as a “quiet study room, teen room, a program room that can be used for multiple purposes throughout the day, increased computer access and improved access to collections and comfortable seating for adults and children,” according to the press release.
“The building was very crowded before, we’ll have a lot more space now,” Corbeil said. “There will be a new community room that the community can use for more things than it can now.”
The West Branch will be the most energy-efficient of the four Berkeley libraries and will receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certificate, according to the press release, and will also be designed to have zero net energy performance by which the building would only use as much energy as generated through its solar panels.
Since November 2008, the city has chosen the library’s architects through a competitive bidding process and has held several community meetings in which the public has raised issues regarding the construction and renovation of the libraries.
The South Branch Library, located on Russell Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has already been demolished and is currently undergoing construction. Renovations on the North Branch and Claremont Branch libraries have already been completed and are open for use.
“We are very pleased with our timeline (after the approval of Measure FF),” Corbeil said. “We’re really pleased to build this library in West Berkeley.”
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