Measure FF Improves and Renovates Berkeley Public Libraries
In 2008, Berkeley voters passed The Library Bond Measure FF, armed with $26 million dollars and set to improve the South, West, North, and Claremont Berkeley Public Library branches. Under the measure, big changes are already in the works, as well as a dose of controversy.
The West and South branches have recently undergone large changes, with more to come. Both were marked for demolition to usher in new and improved modern architectural structures. The South branch was closed March 17 and demolished three or four weeks later, with plans for a reopening in approximately 15 months to allow adequate time for construction. Similarly, the West Branch was closed early in May with demolition set to start soon. Among the renovations to the new buildings will be modernizations with greater adherence to the current building code. These modernizations will include increasing the size of the libraries for greater occupancy, constructing seismically safe structures, and installing ADA (American Disability Act) compliant fixtures such as ramps and hand railings. Many hope that the modernization of the buildings will produce libraries better able to provide for the people of Berkeley. Furthermore, both buildings will feature environmentally–friendly building design. Plans include gaining LEED Gold Certification (a high energy and green rated certification for building), which will work to reduce energy and water consumption, as well as creating a “net zero” design, a building with sufficient power generation to create as much energy as it uses. The renovations are sure to attract excitement during a time of green innovation in the Bay Area.
Not only will the two branches feature improved and more sustainable design, but they will also work to provide an increased number of library services. Both libraries plan to provide for more public access to information. This information will come in the form of “increased computer access, improved access to collections,” and “additional space for laptop users,” according to the Branch Improvement Plan. Because of this, patrons of the library will have greater opportunity for learning and researching a greater scope of material. In addition, both libraries will have certain areas set aside for specific groups. There will be “distinct zones throughout the building for adults, teens, and children’s services” and “adequate space to accommodate all library and adult literacy programs, including a quiet study room, and teen room,” according to the Reconstruction Plan website. Through this plan, a greater number of groups will be better able to utilize the library. While waiting for the upcoming expansions, BranchVans (located at 920 Allston Way and 1730 Oregon Street) are available to provide a variety of services.
One additional service unique to the South Branch is the Tool Lending Library. It will be allotted a larger space to provide an increased amount of tools and maintenance. While the renovations to the Tool Lending Library are being completed, a temporary Lending location has been set up at 2525 8th St. for residents to use and enjoy.
Further renovations under Measure FF were done on another pair of branches: the North Branch and the Claremont Branch. These two branches were only renovated, not remodeled, in contrast to their South and West counterparts. The decision was made because, as Sarah Dentan, neighborhood and children’s services director, said, “to renovate the south and west branches, more money would have been invested versus simply starting over and rebuilding.” The libraries, which opened April 7 and May 7 respectively, feature much of the same additions as the other two branches will have. These updates include more electrical outlets, areas for smaller children, ADA accessibility, and earthquake compliance. The renovations have proven to be popular and the libraries are now completely up–to–date.
Although there are many who approve of the plans set in motion for the library branches, there has been significant backlash as well. The opposition against the plans approved under Measure FF has been manifested in groups such as The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) and the Concerned Library Users group. The demolition of the two building was controversial amid calls from architectural preservationist groups, such as BAHA, due to the two branches being architecturally and historically significant. Another point of contention was whether or not Measure FF had the power to destroy the buildings. The argument was “that bond proceeds would be limited to renovation, construction, seismic, and disabled improvements, and expansion of program areas… we are dismayed to find the current plans call for demolishing two branch libraries instead of renovating them as specified,” stated BAHA in July of 2010. Though not without criticism, there is still optimism for the new branches. With big changes coming, there is excitement for the future of the Berkeley Public Libraries.
Another faction irritated by the library closings are many Berkeley High School students. The quiet spaces and convenient locations of the libraries have been missed by many students. The closings have proved to be unpopular for students who in the past have gone to do work in the libraries. “I used to use the North Berkeley library before it closed for reconstruction, and it was nice having a quiet space,” said BHS junior Clair Hoch-Frohman. “However, now that it reopened I can see that the renovations really improved the quality of the library and [it] will be an even better place for me now.”
Although the closing of the branches for extended periods of time has left students less them ecstatic, there is also prevailing optimism. Even though it is a hardship for students, many agree that, when reopened, the libraries will prove more useful and convenient.
Many people, like March Sussman, manager of the North Berkeley library branch, are excited “to be able to provide safe, up to code, more accessible buildings for the public. Berkeley is so invested in its libraries; it feels so good being better able to provide for them,” she comments. The new upgraded libraries indeed seem to be an exciting topic, with only more discussion to come.