S.F. libraries may dip into preservation fund

The City’s branch library improvement program is picking up steam, with one renovated library and one newly constructed library scheduled to open in the coming months.

Due to a slow start and escalating construction costs, however, several other ventures have been delayed and five branch projects — Bayview, Golden Gate, Merced, North Beach and Ortega — are on hold until $40 million to $50 million in additional funding can be secured.

To get that funding, library officials are eyeing a library preservation fund approved by voters in 1994 that earmarks a percentage of city revenues for library operations.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to place a City Charter amendment on the November ballot that would authorize The City to issue debt secured by or repaid from the fund, which could be used for the remaining facilities improvements.

Mostly funded by a $106 million improvement bond approved by San Francisco voters in 2000, the $141 million branch library improvement program was scheduled to have 19 renovations and four full construction projects completed by 2009.

Library officials have done more proactive outreach to contractors, which in turn has encouraged more bids and more competitively priced contracts, according to City Librarian Luis Herrera, speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the new $6 million Portola branch library. Originally scheduled to begin construction in 2006, the new branch is now slated to open in early 2009.

Since 2001, four branch projects have been completed, including renovations of three libraries and construction of the new Mission Bay branch.

Two of the branch projects — West Portal and Sunset — were completed earlier this year. On Aug. 4, the library will reopen the Marina branch, following its $3.9 million renovation. A $4.3 million Western Addition renovation is slated for an October debut.

“It’s been years, and they’ve only got what, four done?” said Dan Weaver, chairman of the San Francisco Library Citizens Advisory Committee. “Now, they’re gaining speed.”

While the CAC initially opposed using the library preservation fund to help support the branch improvement program, an amendment to the new legislation that limits use of the funds to property taxes that come in above a set baseline has assured the group that operating funds won’t be reduced to pay for the new bonds, Weaver said.

Not all library fans have been so assured. Peter Warfield, founderof the Library Users Association, sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month warning that the amendment in effect “endorsed a 15-year freeze on library operations funding.”

Quiet, please

Where library projects stand

» COMPLETED

Excelsior July 2005

Mission Bay July 2006

West Portal February 2007

Sunset March 2007

» NEAR COMPLETION

Marina August 4

Glen Park October 13

» CURRENTLY CLOSED

Noe Valley

Western Addition

Richmond

– Source: San Francisco Public Library


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