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A dream 30 years in the making is finally here

San Diego Central Library begins its next chapter

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An aerial photo taken in September 2012 of the Central Library while under construction, prior to the addition of the auditorium, shows the new library’s close proximity to Petco Park. Photo courtesy of Turner Construction

More than three decades ago, San Diego's leaders and citizens recognized that if we truly wanted to be a great city, we needed a new Central Library to replace the old one at 820 E Street.

The existing facility built in 1954 was designed to serve a population of 466,000 and was woefully out of date. It lacked the space to serve the existing and future population of San Diego. Even then, the facility was beyond its capacity with much of its collection in two basement storage areas, off limits to the public. The building suffered from decaying infrastructure, outdated plumbing, inefficient electrical systems, as well as obsolete heating and air systems that were costly to maintain.

Together, the city, civic leaders and citizens of San Diego embarked on a journey to create a new library that would serve as the civic destination that would have the space, infrastructure and technology to address community needs and engender regional pride. The goal was to improve access to information and resources, support student achievement, provide a venue for community gatherings and top-quality cultural and educational programming, and increase access to key technologies that creates a level playing field for all.

Citizen committees studied possible sites for the new Central Library through 45 independent studies. Beginning in 1999, six potential downtown sites were analyzed through public hearings. An extensive series of workshops were held with thousands of citizens participating. In 2001, the City Council reviewed the analysis on each of the sites along with associated costs, and unanimously re-affirmed that the city-owned approximately 68,000 square foot site at Park Blvd. and J Street was the best location.

This location in East Village a block from Petco Park is significant. It helps fulfill Alonzo Horton's vision more than 100 years ago when he purchased the land now known as downtown San Diego to build a vibrant waterfront center. The new Central Library is at the node of the Park-to-Bay Link that connects San Diego’s majestic waterfront to the rich cultural activity of Balboa Park. Its strategic location, with easy access to parking and public transportation options, makes the new Central Library the heart of downtown and center for civic activity by bringing together people from all spectrums of life including residents, businesses, students, tourists, and those in search of cultural programs and entertainment.

The city put together a funding plan for this $185 million Central Library building project. The California State Library awarded San Diego a $20 million grant for the new Central Library. The Centre City Development Corporation allocated $80 million for construction with funds earmarked for downtown development. The San Diego Unified School District approved $20 million for a 40-year lease on unused space on the sixth and seventh floors of the building for a charter high school. And private donors stepped forward to secure the remaining $64.9 million needed to complete construction. Private donors contributed an additional $10 million to cover the first five years of additional operating costs at the new facility. This amount of private funding was almost 40 percent of the total funds. The level of private support was the highest ever for a public library capital project outside of New York City.

With this funding package commitment in place, on June 28, 2010, the San Diego City Council approved construction of the new Central Library and a month later, ground was broken on construction. On June 9, 2013, the old Central Library was closed to move to the new Central Library and prepare for opening. The new Central Library celebration, street festival, and sneak peek of the first floor of the library is scheduled for Sept. 28, 2013, with an opening for full operations on Sept. 30, 2013.

Building the new Central Library is a testament to the tenacity, perseverance and partnerships -- it took decades to get to this point in our city’s history. This project has been a long time in coming, but people who visit the library will know it was well worth the wait.

The time has come for the San Diego Public Library, library users and the whole region to celebrate this accomplishment and discover the next chapter that we are just beginning to jointly create.

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