Noe Valley Voice June 2004

Architect Unveils Plans for Library Facelift

By Corrie M. Anders

Final plans have been approved to renovate Noe Valley's stately but aging branch library and to provide it with better earthquake protection without compromising the building's architectural integrity.

The blueprint sailed through a May 20 joint session of the San Francisco Library Commission and a design review panel of architects with barely a murmur of discord. The plan also won applause at a May 10 unveiling in Noe Valley.

Sometime early next year, hard-hatters will take over the Noe Valley-Sally Brunn Library at 451 Jersey Street for a renovation and seismic upgrade that will shutter the building for about two years.

When it reopens, patrons will find a reorganized facility with a little more bookshelf space, additional computer stations, disabled access to all areas of the building, and a fresh new interior with better lighting and less clutter.

"It's going to be a very pleasant environment," said Children's Librarian Carol Small. "It already is, but I think it's going to be even nicer."

The final plan also delighted Noe Valley activists and preservationists who worked to preserve the historic façade and grand staircase of the 1916 Beaux Arts building, as well as its community-inspired rear garden and deck.

"It's our little Carnegie library" is how Friends of Noe Valley President Debra Niemann described the classic two-story brick structure built under the philanthropy of industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Supporters said the preservation effort was no small feat, given that some other city libraries had not been as fortunate. The marble staircase at the Mission Branch Library, for example, became a casualty during a similar seismic renovation.

The renovation is part of a larger effort to seismically improve library branches throughout the city. Four years ago, voters approved a $106 million bond measure to make libraries less vulnerable in a major earthquake. Approximately $2.9 million has been allotted to the Noe Valley branch retrofit.

Carey & Co., a San Francisco architectural firm, was selected to guide the Noe Valley renovation. Nancy Goldenberg, the firm's project manager for the library, said she is more than pleased at how the library will look when it's completed.

"I'm excited about bringing back the main reading room spaces to their original glory," said Goldenberg. "They're a little tired right now, and the interior has been kind of just growing in an ad hoc fashion."

Goldenberg said the "horrible" fluorescent lighting in both the adult and children's reading rooms will be replaced with pendant lighting, the "tired" linoleum will be tossed out, and the walls will get a fresh coat of paint.

The facility will also be rewired for today's high-tech world. There will be eight public computers instead of the current four, more Internet access, and possibly a wireless hot spot for laptops that don't need to be tethered to an outlet.

The renovations will acknowledge disabled patrons,thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plans call for construction of a front-entrance wheelchair ramp and a new elevator to the second floor. So that the elevator will be less obtrusive, the architects placed it behind the main reading room on the west side of the building. It opens onto a "little lobby" across from the circulation desk, said Goldenberg.

The renovation plan also retains the ground-floor garden and the outdoor reading deck (although the elevator shaft ate into a small portion of both spaces). The deck, which neighbors helped build some two decades ago, will get a facelift of new wood.

Two small bathrooms on the first floor will be enlarged. But Goldenberg said one speaker at last month's commission meeting suggested that the bathrooms, tucked away at the rear of the building in the blueprint, should be moved to a more visible location off the hallway. It's an idea the architects will explore, she said.

The front of the library will have new curb appeal. "We'll clean it and do a little tree thinning, so [the facade] will be more visible," Goldenberg said.

The next step in the process is to tweak the final plan and then get "a cost estimate and make sure we're still on target," Goldenberg said.

While that is going on, momentum is gathering to raise money to pay for the library's furnishings and equipment. That fundraising effort is needed because the bond money will finance only the building's construction costs.

"We have not established a goal yet," said Kim Drew, a Duncan Street resident who is co-chair of the fundraising committee. "The maximum will be $500,000."

The financial help will supplement any funds the branch receives from the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, which plans to raise $16 million in private donations for non-construction costs at libraries citywide.

Drew's committee, which meets monthly at the library, is focusing its immediate attention on identifying possible donors and fundraising strategies. Drew said a more visible push for donations will start as the construction phase nears completion.

City officials refused to specify when the library will close, other than to say it will occur next year between January and May. "We're trying to keep the branch open absolutely as long as possible," said Mindy Linetzky, the San Francisco Library's bond program administrator. "We won't give an exact date until the [construction] bids go out."

During the branch shutdown, Noe Valley residents won't be without options. A bookmobile will visit the neighborhood, and nearby library branches will hold extended hours. The library also is checking into the feasibility of relocating some of its more popular activities to nearby schools and community centers. They include the lapsit program for toddlers, special performances for children, and a poetry program for adults, said Small, the children's librarian.