Noe Valley Voice July-August 2000

Noe Valley Library Could Be Quakeproofed If Bond Passes

By Olivia Boler

It looks as if the seismically unfit Noe Valley Library is going to be a poster child for a new city-sponsored bond measure.

On May 18, administrators from the San Francisco Public Library and the Department of Public Works (DPW) held a public meeting at the Eureka Valley Library at which they unveiled plans to put a $129 million bond measure on the November ballot.

The bond issue, dubbed the "Branch Library Improvement Bond," would fund seismic upgrades, disabled access, and other renovations at 19 of San Francisco's 26 branch libraries. The money would also go toward constructing six new library buildings.

According to DPW architect Jorge Alfaro, who spoke at the May meeting, the Noe Valley ­ Sally Brunn Library at 451 Jersey Street would be one of the first branches to receive funding for renovations. That's because it is in dire need of a retrofit. For years now, the Noe Valley branch has had a seismic hazard rating of 4, the worst rating a building can receive. In the event of a major earthquake -- 7.0 or higher on the Richter scale -- the building's walls or roof could cave in.

Children's Room in Most Danger

Acting City Librarian Susan Hildreth said the age of the building was another concern. She pointed out that the Noe Valley Library is one of the country's prized "Carnegie" libraries, financed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie during the first half of the 20th century. A two-story brick structure with an ornate terra-cotta entranceway, the branch was designed by architect John Reid and built in 1916.

The library's floor plan is in the shape of a "T," with the top of the "T" housing the main reading room (the north wing), and the stem the smaller children's room (the south wing). What is most at risk in the event of an earthquake is the children's room. The south wing has unreinforced masonry walls and a poorly connected roof. With enough ground shaking, the room's ceiling could collapse.

A report by city engineers suggests demolishing and rebuilding the stem of the "T," while preserving and strengthening the more historically significant main reading room. New braced walls would be added along the perimeter of both wings and would extend from new foundations to the underside of the roof trusses.

Noe Valley Branch Librarian Roberta Greifer, noted that the children's room is very cramped at this time. She said Children's Librarian Carol Small has to keep a bunch of seasonal books in a small rear office because there is not enough room to shelve them in the reading room. Pamphlets, other reading materials, and two computer terminals that access the library's catalog are also cluttering up the children's reading tables.

Alfaro explained that the bond would provide not only a retrofit, but an expansion of the current structure. The report suggests extending the children's room by removing part of the deck and garden along the sides and back of the building. This expansion would add more room for technicians to process books and tapes. It would also increase the space for Greif-er's computer, which now sits in an old coat closet behind the checkout counter.

Building Needs an Elevator

Another improvement under the bond proposal would be to bring the Noe Valley Library into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This would mean adding a ramp to the main entrance of the library, renovating the restrooms, doors, and checkout counters, and installing an elevator from the ground-floor entrance up to the main floor.

"Obviously, our first priority is to provide access to the disabled, but we'd also like to help all the mothers and fathers with babies who now have to park their strollers outside or carry them up the steps," said Greifer. "An elevator would really help the staff, too. Right now we have to climb the stairs with armloads of returned books and tapes from the drop-off boxes. Since we're closed on Sunday and Monday, on Tuesdays there's always a pile of books in the bin and on the floor, and it can take over an hour to get them up to the checkout counter."

The bond issue would also fund asbestos removal and new electrical wiring at the branch. The librarians and technicians currently use two personal computers (PCs) for administrative tasks, and there are five key-stroke-driven computers and one newly acquired PC for the public (see sidebar). At least one computer with games in the children's room would be added once the wiring upgrades is complete. Right now, the library's wiring cannot support an additional computer.

Price Tag for Noe is $5 Million

The cost for all these improvements at the Noe Valley branch is projected at $4.9 million. That's less than 4 percent of the total cost of the bond. Most of the other branch renovations fall into the $4 to $5 million range as well. But the biggest expenditure in the proposed $129 million bond issue would be $14.8 million for construction of a new "systemwide support center," location to be determined. This part of the bond, plus $5 million earmarked for renovation of Brooks Hall, may prove controversial. Paul Kantus, of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, commented in a recent newsletter, "Should these last two items that are not branch libraries be tacked onto a 'Branch Library Improvement Bond'? Wouldn't the voters be more inclined to okay a bond issue strictly for the very necessary retrofitting of the branches?"

Hildreth estimates that if the measure passes in November -- it needs a two-thirds vote -- the increase in property taxes on a $300,000 home would be about $50 per year.

Library Would Be Closed Two Years

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Library will go ahead and apply for funding under Proposition 14, the state library bond issue passed in March. Funds from Proposition 14 are to be awarded on a competitive basis, and Hildreth and Alfaro believe that Noe Valley's SHR-4 rating will make it a strong candidate.

"We hope to get 65 percent from Proposition 14, and 35 percent from the new improvement bond," said Hildreth. "We know it's a large initial investment [the new proposal], but with the bond funds spread over a 10-year period between all the neighborhood branches that need it, we think it's a good investment."

Assuming the bond measure wins at the polls, the community will not see a completely renovated Noe Valley branch for at least four years. The planning, design, and bidding process could take up to two years, and the actual construction another two. The Noe Valley Library would have to close during construction. Whether the branch would find temporary quarters, shift patrons to the larger Mission Library, or use mobile units remains to be seen.

Hildreth said the measure is now before the Board of Supervisors, but that the library welcomes feedback. You are invited to call Chief of Branches Donna Corbeil at 557-4353 or Public Affairs Director Marcia Schneider at 557-4277.

Editor's Note: Supervisors Michael Yaki and Amos Brown introduced the library improvement bond measure before the Board of Supervisors on June 6. To get a spot on the Nov. 7 ballot, it must win final board approval by July 28.


Escape Via Netscape

If you are not lucky enough (or cursed as I am) to have Internet access in your home or work, you can now stop by the Noe Valley Library and log on to its new PC with Netscape Navigator. Of the six computers open to patrons, it is the only one with a mouse, a printer, and, most importantly, graphics capability. Pages can be printed at a cost of 10 cents per page. (Sorry, it's black and white only.)

I gave the terminal a whirl the other day. The default home page is the San Francisco Public Library's web site, of course. You can check out library events, the catalog for all the branches and the Main Library, and even your own library account. The site has many links for children, including homework help, things to do in the Bay Area, and brain teasers.

The great thing about the new PC is that you can use its browser -- Netscape Navigator -- to go beyond the library's web site. I checked my emails on Hotmail, did a quick name search on Yahoo, and almost visited my favorite auctions on eBay (but was able to stop myself).

There is a 15-minute time limit if others are waiting, although Librarian Roberta Greifer says she has not had to use a signup sheet yet. That may change in the future as patrons become aware of this welcome addition to the branch.

The library is located at 451 Jersey Street near Castro. Hours are 10 to 9 on Tuesdays, 1 to 9 on Wednesdays, 10 to 6 on Thursdays and Saturdays, and 1 to 6 on Fridays. Questions? Call 695-5095.

-- Olivia Boler