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Dream of main library trudges through budget woes

In a distinctive Little Italy building that also is his home, architect Rob Wellington Quigley showcases a wooden model of a downtown main library that took him and his team more than a year to construct. While they could have relied solely on computer-aided design drawings, Quigley said the computer drawings miss something, even with the capability to "fly through" a structure long before it is ever built. The wooden model is solid, it is tangible, he says.

Replacing the library is not a new idea. Quigley said replacing the structure was discussed as long ago as 1971. There have been 28 studies to replace the 50-year-old library since then. Quigley's team was hired in 1986 to realize the plan and several potential sites were examined over the years.

As a new century was about to dawn, the City Council selected the East Village site at 12th Street, which will become an extension of Park Boulevard, 11th Street and J and K streets. The project is within two blocks of the new ballpark and has two San Diego Trolley stops within two blocks.

Why hasn't construction begun?

The approximately 400,000-square-foot development is projected to cost about $115 million to construct, and is expected to have a completed value that exceeds $150 million. The project should take about 2 1/2 years to construct once getting under way. If all goes as Quigley would hope, that would put the completion date in 2007.

Quigley said the library is being aided by a $20 million state grant. "And we don't need the $115 million now, we need it over 3 1/2 years," he said.

When asked how else the project may gain funding, Quigley noted that tens of millions in funds should be coming from the Centre City Development Corp., along with private financing.

Quigley has earned a champion in Mayor Dick Murphy, who has said a great central library is at the core of any great city.

Quigley said the old building on E Street is an eyesore best relegated to the dustbin of history.

While waiting for so long to realize a vision has been frustrating, Quigley said it gave him the chance to observe and learn from newly created libraries in San Jose, Seattle and Salt Lake City.

The K Street entrance to the library will have a 26-foot-high glass folding door foyer.

Along with shelves for thousands of books, the main library will have a 10,000-square-foot children's area.

The nine-story library will have a 350-seat auditorium that will be suitable for music performances and lectures. The back of the theater will have glass doors that open onto a garden courtyard.

A main reading room with 64-foot sides will be a glass cube with a wood-like lattice dome structure that Quigley said was inspired by the structure housing the botanical gardens in Balboa Park.

Quigley said if he has one major problem with many main libraries, it is that they don't necessarily showcase the cities they are in. Quigley seeks to do this with the glass cube.

This will not be the only place with views. Quigley said the public asked that a large rooftop terrace with an outdoor sculpture gallery is an integral part of the plan. While much of this terrace will be outside, it will also have enclosed spaces for art galleries, a kitchen, multipurpose room, as well as a circular boardroom that could be used for an array of meetings.

Floors six and seven are expansion floors.

The project will have about 250 parking spaces below the structure, as well as about 250 more on an adjacent lot.

There is the danger that if the planning on the library doesn't proceed in an expedited fashion, the state could take back the $20 million it kicked in to the project.

The other problem is the city's doubtful financial situation, which has caused Supervisor Ron Roberts to urge caution.

Mayor Murphy hopes that if that money is yanked, that it could be replaced with funds from the CCDC. The possible problem with that idea is that in the wake of California's budget crisis, redevelopment agencies are getting a lot less money than before.

CCDC, however, is on the hook for a lot of money already. Along with $20 million it plans to give, it already gave $10 million this year, and plans to donate $10 million in 2006. Any amount other than that already applied could be in peril.

Related Articles:

Bowers heads effort to raise private funds for libraries (May 21, 2003)

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