Library renovations put on hold 

An ambitious program to overhaul The City’s public library buildings has hit a snag with construction cost overruns and delays that have now forced the postponement of five branch renovation projects.

The postponement is unlikely to draw criticism as plans for the branches have also been altered to bring much grander than originally conceived improvements, in some cases newly constructed larger buildings.

At the polls in 2000, San Francisco voters approved a $106 million bond to help fund the so-called Branch Library Improvement Program, which included the renovation of 19 library branches and four construction projects. The program is now short by between $34 million and $50 million.

Faced with the shortfall the San Francisco Public Library Commission unanimously voted Thursday to postpone the renovation of the Golden Gate Valley, Merced, Bayview, Ortega and North Beach branches and use the $18 million sitting in these project budgets to help fund the completion of 11 other branch library projects.

"If we don’t get more money, those [five] projects will be canceled," Library Commissioner Larry Kane said.

"I support the delay. We need a larger library," said Ian McLean, an Ortega Branch user. "Both my children, one in middle school and one in elementary, can wait for the right library in that area."

Fran Martin, chairwoman of the Visitacion Valley Planning Alliance, was pleased the commission’s decision secured enough funding for a new branch library in her neighborhood. "It’s pretty clear, if you go look at what poses as a library right now, it’s time we got something that isn’t second best."

The commission’s decision came with the expectation that additional funding will come through. A proposal picking up steam is a ballot measure this November asking voters to extend the term of the library fund they approved in 1994 that earmarks a percentage of city revenue for operation of the library system. The fund expires in 2009. Voters would also be asked to authorize The City to issue bonds to be paid back through the fund’s revenue. This bond could cover the program’s shortfall "without affecting any current service level in the library," according to Ben Rosenfield, assistant city administrator.

"We’re going to rely on this revenue bond come November. And if there’s opposition … that bond may fail and these projects will not get done," Kane said.

To date, two branch libraries — West Portal and Excelsior — have undergone renovations as part of the program and reopened. The Sunset Branch is expected to reopen on March 31 after closing down in September 2005 for $1.5 million worth of renovations. Library users of this branch will see a revamped children’s area, an area for teenagers, better lighting, new public restrooms and free wireless Internet access.

Library renovations

Five library branch renovation projects were put on hold Thursday.

- Bayview

- Golden Gate Valley

- Merced

- North Beach

- Ortega

jsabatini@examiner.com

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