Noe Valley Voice May 2003

Library Set to Close for Renovation in 2004

By Olivia Boler

Despite San Francisco's current budget woes, renovations at the Noe Valley­Sally Brunn Library are going ahead as scheduled. Library staff say the branch is slated to close in the summer of 2004 for an estimated 20 to 23 months in order to complete the $4.2 million renovation, which will begin with a critical seismic upgrade.

More than a decade ago, the library received the city's worst "hazard rating"--4 on a scale of 1 to 4-- which means that it could sustain serious damage or even collapse in the event of a major earthquake. While the building survived the 1989 quake, seismic experts have warned that it might not withstand another quake of magnitude 7.0 or higher.

Also on the list of renovation goals is to bring the building up to ADA standards (the Americans with Disabilities Act), which will require enlarging the restrooms and installing both an elevator and ramp to make the library wheelchair-accessible. In addition, the facility will be rewired to make way for a fleet of new computers with Internet access. Currently, there is only one PC available for public use.

The renovation is being financed by a $106 million bond measure approved by city voters in November 2000.

A Neighborhood Jewel

Located at 451 Jersey Street, the Noe Valley Library was originally built in 1916 with funds from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The classic two-story brick structure, with its handsome and ornate terracotta entranceway, was designed by architect John Reid and is registered with the City Landmarks Board as an architecturally significant building. In the late 1980s and early '90s, the library was threatened with closure several times, but local activists, including neighborhood resident Sally Brunn, lobbied hard to spare the branch. (The library was renamed in honor of Brunn after her death from cancer in 1992.) Because of its beauty and historical value, Noe Valley residents have rejected the notion of building a new library and successfully fought for renovation of the existing Carnegie structure.

With the start of the renovation just one year away, the library will soon be soliciting community input on the renovation plans at a "design intensive," a workshop that will be attended by San Francisco Library staff, project architect Alice Carey of Carey & Company, Noe Valley-Sally Brunn branch librarians, and library patrons and neighbors.

"The purpose of the meeting is to brainstorm design ideas for improving the space while retaining and enhancing the historic character of this Carnegie building," says San Francisco Library Bond Program Administrator Mindy Linetzky. For example, she says, there will likely be a discussion about how to best reconfigure the interior space while preserving the prominence of the stately grand staircase.

Attendees at the workshop will also be able to express their opinions on key issues that have come up in past discussions and surveys about the renovation. For example, there has been debate as to whether part of the back garden should be sacrificed in order to expand the interior space. The architect and the library staff will also solicit ideas for a new program room, feedback about the best location for the elevator, and input on where to put the computer stations.

Maybe a Movie Theater

"Normally at these workshops we hear what the key issues are for people in the community," says architect Alice Carey, whose San Francisco firm was chosen in December 2002 to design the renovation. Carey's firm has upgraded other historic buildings, including three Carnegie libraries in Oakland, also built in the early 20th century.

Although Carey and her team of designers have taken a close look at the building and surrounding lot, they have not yet "put pen to paper" and come up with specific renovation designs. "It's a handsome building inside and out," she says. "We don't want to do anything to make it less historic or attractive. But we do want to make it more functional for the future. It's a critical balance. At the workshop, users will tell us what they love about it and what they don't like. We'll then try to marry what the majority want with what will work."

Carey plans to bring illustrations, drawings, and props that will give participants a chance to see how computers, furniture, and even a small movie theater could fit into the library's existing space.

The workshop, which is expected to last at least one full day, will also give those who patronize the Noe Valley branch a chance to shape a plan for how the library will function during its nearly two-year closure. According to Linetzky, the library is looking at a variety of options, such as increasing the hours at a nearby branch, holding books and programs at neighborhood schools and community centers, and operating a bookmobile service.

Get Out Your Checkbook

Once details of the renovation have been nailed down and ground has been broken, the discussions will not stop there. Because the bond is a "general obligation bond," it will only cover improvements to the library's bricks and mortar. Funding for furniture and computer equipment will have to come from another source, so Noe neighbors can expect more appeals for their help and involvement in coming years.

The library's "design intensive" meeting will be held when the availability of the architect is confirmed. According to library staff, neighbors will be given at least one month's notice, once the meeting has been scheduled. Those who are interested in participating can look for announcements of the event at the Noe Valley branch, or contact Mindy Linetzky at 557-4354. h