San Diego Hopes Joint-Use Proposal Saves $20-Million Grant

San Diego Hopes Joint-Use Proposal Saves $20-Million Grant

Almost 10 years and two mayors since San Diego officials first envisioned building a $130-million new downtown Main Library, city officials are scrambling to extend the December 31 state deadline for securing enough funds to keep a $20-million state-library grant awarded in 2003 toward construction of the now–$185-million facility. In a December 19 letter to California State Librarian Susan Hildreth, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and San Diego Unified School District board President Sheila Jackson have proposed that the school district inject $20 million into the fund so it can build a 300-student “niche” high school with a separate entrance on the 7th and 8th floors of the Main Library.

The proposal came several weeks after Sanders and SDPL administrators negotiated a deal to keep seven branch libraries open until the end of FY2009, which scuttled the mayor’s plan to close them temporarily to help plug a $43-million hole in the city’s operating budget. At the same time, the opening of a new Logan Heights branch in 2009 is still on target, as is a 2002 plan to eventually expand or rebuild 17 more library facilities, according to the December 7 San Diego Union-Tribune.

Conceding that “the current economic downturn has . . . at times made fundraising difficult,” the letter explains that the school district would use the $20 million set aside for a new downtown school that voters approved November 4. “When coupled with recent additional donor commitments, this collaboration could provide the funding required to move the new Main Library project forward,” Sanders and Jackson asserted, adding, “joint use with a high-tech modern library is an excellent way to encourage information literacy in a new generation of Californians” as well as modeling niche high schools as “a proven remedy to address high dropout rates.”

“The school will use the [library’s] 350-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium, the computer lab and 407 computers, the 400-seat special event area, the rare book collection, and the amazing librarians that make up the central library team,” SDPL Foundation board Vice-Chair Mel Katz told American Libraries. He also explained the impetus for the partnership was passage of a $2.1-billion school bond; the $20 million in high-school-construction money would narrow the Main Library’s $55-million fundraising gap enough to earn the city council’s release of $80 million in redevelopment funds, leaving $35 million to raise “during the three years of construction.”

Agreeing that it is “ ideally super to have a high school sited in the Main Library,” Hildreth told American Libraries, “My staff and I really want to become more cognizant of the details of this partnership,” such as what additional costs might be incurred because of architectural regulations required of school facilities. She explained that grant extensions in the past have gone to projects “based on a reasonable timeline, knowing when the building was going to be built and occupied.” Although any reallocation of the grant funds would have to be made by the state library’s bond board, the Whittier Daily News reported June 1 that city library officials there were already eyeing the San Diego grant as money that could come their way to jump-start a long-awaited new library there.

“All you hear is, ‘shovel-ready, shovel-ready,’” Hildreth said of eager grant-seekers, emphasizing the irony that “everybody’s having this to-do over these bonds when, because of California’s fiscal crisis, we’re not selling any bonds at all.” Nonetheless, she said, “I’m trying to at least make sure, at least in terms of this project, that we’re really clear on where we’re going with it” before she leaves California at the end of February 2009 to become director of the Seattle Public Library.

Posted on December 23, 2008. Discuss.